Tag: lichens

Remote birdwatching on Northumberland’s borders

by on Jun.13, 2010, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

The North Pennines may not have the highest species density of any of the areas that we visit but, in terms of peace, tranquility and solitude, it takes some beating.

On Friday morning I drove to Corbridge to collect Lesley and David, two of our Prestige clients, for a day of birdwatching around Northumberland’s remote border.  As we headed southwest the landscape became wilder and with less of any obvious human influence.  Curlew, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Snipe may be common sights on the coast in the winter but, on remote moorland in the spring, they’re transformed into something other-worldly.

Some of the North Pennines flowers are quite stunning as well; Mountain Pansy, Scottish Asphodel, swathes of Cotton Grass waving in the breeze and, my own favourite, Spring Gentian.  we found no less than 20 gentians, including a group of 11 at a spot where last year there were only 4.  As we used a hand lens to admire the remarkable structures of lichens on the rocks in a deep narrow gorge, the bird species that are typical of that habitat type entertained us; a family of Dippers were feeding in the fast-flowing water, with the juveniles clearly hesitant to take the plunge, Grey Wagtails were flycatching and a Ring Ouzel flew from a pile of boulders.  The afternoon continued with a family of Red Grouse and then a small group of Black Grouse. As is often the case these were all Blackcock, engaging in some half-hearted lekking in the afternoon sunshine.

After returning Lesley and David to their holiday cottage, stumbling across a Hobby mobbed by hirundines on the way, I headed home, then out to a 30th birthday party (Happy Birthday Kerry!), then to The Swan before going home, checking everything in readiness for Saturday’s 2 Safaris, and hitting the pillow.

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There’s something exciting in the fridge

by on May.26, 2010, under Family and friends

Now, those are the words that a girl wants to hear when she gets home after a hard day at work…

What could it be?

A bar of chocolate? 🙂

A nice steak? 🙂 🙂

A bottle of champagne? 🙂 🙂 🙂

But I paused, and asked the question “Is it edible?”.  The reply “it could be” didn’t exactly fill me with confidence that we were talking about ‘exciting’ in my terms rather than Martin’s.

Just to explain my hesitation; as many of you know, Martin has lots of enthusiasm for anything connected with natural history.  Birdwatching, whales and dolphins are just the tip of the iceberg.  Lichens are a bit esoteric by anyone’s standards, but he’s approaching that apparently mind-bending subject with the same enthusiasm that I’m assured he approached fungi, mosses and liverworts while he was still at infant’s school.  Moth-trapping is one of his favourite activities though, and with our garden list now approaching 250 species there’s always a sense of anticipation whenever we open the trap in a morning.  On workdays that’s usually done after I’ve left for work…

With an ever-growing media library (images, video and now sound recordings), and a house filled with gadgets, nets and sample pots it could be just about anything waiting in the fridge…

And here it is;

An Elephant in the fridge

Do you think he’ll get the hint about champagne? 😉

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Life through a (hand) lens

by on Feb.09, 2010, under Lichens, Surveys

Monday was the second classroom session of the NHSN Lichens and Bryophytes course.  On Sunday, while I was out with Sarah on a walk through three atlas tetrads in Harwood, we found some interesting colonies of Cladonias lichens on the upturned root edges of some windblown Spruce.  As the lichens course is currently looking at Heath and Moorland, and specifically at Cladonias, this was a chance to put the classroom practice into a fieldwork context.  The two most frequent species were C. macilenta (‘Devils Matches’), and C.sulphurina (‘Greater Sulphur-cup’).  Unfortunately, the weather was a bit on the harsh side, so it wasn’t possible to take any photographs of the lichens in the field.  Never mind, that’s just a reason to go back and have another look on a brighter day 😉

The atlassing itself was a bit esoteric.  During the entire 9  miles through the forest we only came across 6 different species;

Common Buzzard 3

Sparrowhawk 1

Goshawk 1

Great Spotted Woodpecker 2

Goldcrest 5

Common Crossbill 103

With temperatures hovering around freezing and 8″ of snow still covering over a mile of the footpaths and tracks, it was no great surprise that there were so few birds.  Also unsurprising, throughout those 9 miles of beautiful, windswept, snow-covered Northumberland we didn’t encounter any other walkers.  They don’t know what they were missing 🙂

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A cold walk and a varied week

by on Feb.05, 2010, under Photography, Tourism

I’ve had another week of meetings (and late-cancellations of meetings as well) with a wide enough range of topics to keep me on my toes.  I’ve enrolled on the Natural History Society of Northumbria ‘Lichens and Bryophytes’ course and the first session was on Monday; my use of dichotomous keys as an aid to identification has been sporadic previously, but now I’ve got to learn.  A one-to-one clinic on Wednesday, discussing the new Northumberland brand and ways to enhance our own marketing, gave me lots of new ideas.  Most valuable of all though was a meeting later that afternoon with one of Northumberland’s major land owners, discussing species conservation, land management, nature tourism and access to the prime natural history areas of his estate.  New NEWT products are on the way…

As I sat in the office yesterday afternoon, staring at the cold gloom outside, I had a call from my good friend, and bird race team-mate, Iain.  He was complaining about being stuck in his office on such a lovely sunny afternoon.  His office is only 20 miles up the road from ours, but was blessed with much better weather.

One thing that unpromising weather does give me time for is processing a few images from the last month.  With the launch of our new website Northern Experience Images I needed to do a reasonable amount of uploading.  Here a just a few from last Saturday, when the temperature was somewhat lower than it is now and myself, Sarah and Andy had a walk along the coast from Embleton towards Dunstanburgh Castle.

Dunstanburgh Castle from Embleton

Dunstanburgh Castle from Embleton

Dunstanburgh Castle from Embleton

Dunstanburgh Castle from Embleton

Dunstanburgh Castle and boulder beach

Dunstanburgh Castle and boulder beach

Boulders at dusk

Boulders at dusk

It was cold, really cold.  As we walked back through the dunes in the dark, there was a bitter northerly wind and it felt like a real wilderness.  Winter, my favourite time of the year (until the green shoots of spring begin to appear anyway…).

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When the weather is miserable…

by on Jan.21, 2010, under Lindisfarne, Northumberland

After the changeable weather during the Birdwatching Northumberland press trip culminated in excellent conditions on Monday, I hoped that we would get more of the same on Tuesday for a Lindisfarne Safari that I was leading.  It looked good; at home we had a heavy frost and clear blue skies.  Yet just a few miles down the road, as I headed to Gosforth to collect our client, there was a bank of thick fog.  Not to worry, conditions might be better on Holy Island…they weren’t, in fact the fog was even thicker.  As we stood on the Heugh it was eerie.  A bitingly cold southeasterly wind and visibility down to just a few metres.  Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Herring Gulls could all be heard through the mist and we continued our journey around the island.  Song Thrushes lifted from each clump of grass as we walked towards the harbour and slightly improved visibility allowed us to look closely at Teal, Bar-tailed Godwits and Curlew.  Lichens and mosses came under great scrutiny (remarkable structures when viewed under a hand lens).  Off the island we found Pale-bellied Brent Geese, small groups of Whooper Swans, a field with lots of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese (and a ‘Canalag’ hybrid), several Kestrels, an incredibly obliging Common Buzzard, a mixed thrush flock (Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush and Blackbird), plenty of waders and, finally, as the mist returned and brought steady rainfall with it, Common Scoter, Shag and Eider on the sea. As we drove back down the A1 the worsening weather made it seem likely that we’d had better conditions than back at home.  There’s always something to see, whatever the weather.

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I’m lichen it

by on Dec.03, 2009, under Natural History

If there’s a prize for worst blogpost title then I must be in the running with this one.  What makes it even worse is that I thought of it on Friday night last week and have only just got round to using it now.  Perhaps my subconscious was suppressing it?

Anyhow, last Friday I attended one of the Natural History Society of Northumbria’s indoor meetings.  The speaker for the evening was Janet Simkin, a lichenologist.  Now that’s quite a thing…lichens are widespread, they can be studied all year round and they are fascinating indicators of the cleanliness, or otherwise, of the air around us, yet some of my clients who have deep interests in many branches of natural history have always issued dire warnings about lichenologists; “they’re a bit strange”, “if you have one on one of your trips, you’ll be lucky if they leave the carpark”, “they move in a geological timeframe” are some of the kinder words spoken.

So why am I blogging about lichens?  Well, a few weeks ago I was visiting an elderly friend, who has a remarkable personal library, and we were looking through his collection of books on lower plants.  Tucked in amongst them was a guide to identifying lichens, which he removed from the shelf, handed to me and said “here, life’s too short…if I’d started 50 years ago this may have been some use”.  I’d started to take notice of the lichens report in the excellent British Wildlife as well, some mouth-watering images and tales of rare and remote species stimulating my interest.

Dr Simkin’s talk was fascinating , detailing how lichen species have appeared and then vanished with changes in air quality.  There was then a short presentation by Katy Barnard about the OPAL Air Survey. Now this is a bit of fieldwork/research that anyone can participate in.  The results can be viewed online, and it gives you an excuse to get outdoors and get some fresh air (assuming that’s what the lichens you find indicate…)

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