thinking outside the tank

June on Loughrigg Fell

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The photographs shown here were captured during several visits in the month of June to Loughrigg Fell in the English Lake District. They were part of a project to observe the wildlife on the fell which culminated in the publication of a book: Wild Loughrigg (flowers).

The notes below serve to identify and describe the wildlife

Bistort belongs to the Dock family (Polygonaceae), a characteristic of which is a sheath, called an ochrea, at the base of the leaf which wraps itself around the stem. You can see a Bistort leaf in the gallery.

Climbing by the bridleway, the Cuckoo-flower flowers from May were finished. I paused to photograph a Rabbit, and a Welsh Poppy. Then, without a hedge in sight, I came across Hedge Woundwort. The flowers aren’t fully open yet, as they are 80 miles to the South, so I’ll get another photograph next visit. You can see in the gallery the roughly hairy, square stem and the undivided, opposite leaves charactersitic of the Mint family (Lamiaceae) to which Hedge Woundwort belongs.

On, over the stream, but this week following it up past where I saw the Common Butterwort last time, I came out into a boggy, marshy area where there were several more Butterworts, but also a few kinds of Orchid. The one with spotted leaves is either a Common or a Heath Spotted Orchid. Nearby, there was just one other Orchid in flower, which had slightly broader, lanceolate, un-spotted leaves, so I’m thinking maybe it’s an Early Marsh Orchid.

There are many very boggy places and a few ponds on this part of Loughrigg Fell. Surrounding one of these ponds there were masses of Cotton-grass, which is actually a sedge rather than a grass.

While pausing to identify the Woodruff and some Pignut, I saw a Garden Chafer. Higher up, there were several more Garden Chafers in flight, with their elytra held up out of the way of their hind wings. Nearby, a spider walked on to the scene, and came to rest. Very kindly, a contact at the British Arachnological Society identified it for me as either Drassodes lapidosus or D.cupreus.

I’m not an idiot savant, but there must have been thirty Swifts overhead, circling to catch insects, and over to the East I could hear a Cuckoo.

I suppose Lily Tarn, a short walk beyond the top of the ridge that looks down on Ambleside, was given its name for the quantities of White Water Lily growing there. How they got there I don’t know. The one I could photograph hadn’t opened yet, but I could see several others in the middle of the tarn that were.

On the way down I took some photographs of Pignut, which at the moment is about the same height as the young fern. I expect it will soon be swallowed up. The Pignut leaf and some detail of the Pignut umbel are illustrated in the gallery.

I could see what my wild flower guide meant by a ‘carpet’ of Woodruff, as this display was quite impressive. I quite often find that you notice more by keeping still and looking around than trying to observe while walking. Just next to the Woodruff there were several pretty examples of Heath Speedwell, with their quite delicately coloured flowers. I might not have noticed them just walking by.

The mot du jour on this overcast morning was definitely ‘bog’. Not only was the fellside very wet from the rainfall associated with the periWimbledon weather, but there was also a very heavy dew on the ground. When identifying the specimens in my wild flower guide, my wet boots told me to bias my choice towards the ‘Marsh’ variety, like ‘Marsh Lousewort‘ and ‘Great Marsh Thistle‘.

The dew did bring some advantages, however. It was clear how many webs there were across the hillside, with each one weighed down by a thousand water droplets.

It was quite a good day for wild flower photography. It was overcast, but still quite bright. Often the bright sun creates strong shadows, and some flowers, like most members of the Buttercup Family, have a high albedo, making the choice of an exposure that doesn’t burn out the flower but still captures the surroundings quite difficult. At least with digital photography, using the camera’s monitor easily permits several combinations of shutter and aperture settings to be compared.

Meadowsweet: the name says it all; Bird’s Foot Trefoil: the name means more  when the seed pods are ripening.

In just three weeks since my last visit, the fell is transformed. Crossing the stream by the bridge, right in your face, the ferns are everywhere – Male Fern upto 1 metre high, and the Bracken not far behind.

One surprise was how much Tormentil has spread over the fell. This wasn’t obvious when the first flowers appeared last month. Wherever the bracken hasn’t invaded and it’s not too wet, such as by the side of the path and on grass-topped rocky outcrops, Tormentil and Woodruff stake their claim.

Where it’s wet, and there are great patches of bog, in among the sedges, there was plenty of Bog Asphodel. The six-petalled, orangey-yellow flowers are in a spike, and mostly, like the specimens in the photograph, only the lower flowers were open. My guide suggests July to August for the flowering, so maybe there’s a fuller display to come.

There were several flowers on this outing that I hadn’t seen, or at least hadn’t identified before. Among these were: Betony, another Woundwort; Lesser Spearwort (I know the flower isn’t in focus, but at least you can see the reddish, hairless stems and the lanceolate, unstalked leaves); Marsh Lousewort (or is it really Lousewort after all, which grows in the same locations); English Stonecrop, occurring just around the summit of Todd Crag, which marks the eastern end of Loughrigg Fell, and attractive enough to earn three photos in the gallery;

There was Wild Thyme right at the walker’s feet on the track; and Water Lobelia, which was the main interest around Lily Tarn where most lily pads were flowerless and looking rather ragged.

The other notable items were: the great quantities of Cuckoo Spit, which is not produced by a phlegmy Cuculus canorus as some people think, but is the secretion of the immature forms of some insects (mainly the sap-sucking Froghopper (Philaneus spumarius); and this spider, sitting in the middle of its dew-drenched web. Only the underside is visible, and I’ve learnt enough from my previous attempts at arachnidentification to know that I’m very unlikely to be able to trace it accurately to species level. To do that often needs very close, sometime microscopic examination, and I am fundamentally against killing anything just to be able to give it a name. There may be some justification in this for professional ecologists seeking to understand the dynamics of natural systems, but not for me.

Returning to the same damp patch where I had seen them previously, there were many tens of examples of Round-leaved Sundew within an area 5 metres by 10.

A small trickle of water, not big enough to be called a beck, runs through this area and close by and in the water were several Yellow Saxifrages, and as with the Sundew they mostly only sported buds. The flower shown here was almost the only one open and certainly the only one with a full complement of petals.

Standing up straight after squatting over the camera, I looked over a dry-stone wall and came face to face with a fox. Neither of us knew what to do next, but I slowly bent down to pick up the camera and changed it as quickly as I could from my usual macro settings to landscape mode. Unexpectedly, the flash fired and again we were both surprised. My second shot was taken just before the fox picked up its breakfast and walked calmly away up the fell, passing a sheep and its two lambs without so much as a glance.

Near the sundew and the saxifrage, nestling in a sodden mossy mass were three or four Cuckoo-flowers. These were much smaller, about 10cm high, and had paler leaves than those at the foot of the fell. Whatever basal leaves they had were out of sight under the moss and the only foliage visible were the pinnate leaves on the stem. This last observation, and the non-tufted arrangement of stems, rules out Cardamine bellidifolia.

Marsh Hawksbeard has a sharply toothed, lanceolate leaf, and sticky blackish hairs on the downy sepal-like bracts.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012


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