Stamfordham Church standing above the flower filled pasture (c) Sally Hutt
Dandelion clocks (c) Sally Hutt
The riverside pasture in Stamfordham is a great place to track the progress of the year. A bright, warm, sunny evening took us out for a walk past the church and down to the River Pont. The marsh marigolds are all but over and the dandelions too have turned to furry clocks. Now it’s the turn of the buttercups to provide the yellow while the red clover offers some pink into the mix. The pignut is now out in flower too while bush vetch is freshly out in the nearby hedges. It was too late in the day for butterflies but even with our recent warm sunny weather these seem to be in low numbers still. It was a quiet evening for birds though a few yellowhammers sang from high trees along our route.
Red clover (c) Duncan Hutt
Cloud over Black Combe (c) Duncan Hutt
Bluebells (c) Duncan Hutt
The south west corner of Cumbria is dominated by the bulk of Black Combe, nowhere else in the Lake District do the hills reach so far towards the Irish Sea. The Whicham Valley sits to the south with its own weather dictated by its mountain neighbour. When the wind is from the north-west bringing cooler damp air off the sea Black Combe, with its smaller neighbour White Combe, can find itself with a long blanket of cloud clinging to the ridge.
In the valley below the sun managed to keep shining, the cloud limited to the high hill then breaking up as it was blown south. The ancient woodland that is now part of Brockwood Park, is marked on maps as Brocklebank Wood (a name predating its current incarnation and that as part of the Victorian built Chappels). The woodland floor was colourful carpet of bluebells, wild garlic and stitchwort while the oaks’ new leaves were a lightly bronzed green. Last year the bluebells were beginning to flower in mid-April around Muncaster.
Mayfly on Black Beck (c) Duncan Hutt
Over at Hallthwaites the Black Beck water level was quite low, a sign that this spring has been relatively dry. The warm weather had brought out insects to hang above the water, in particular mayflies. There are hundreds of species of these distinctive flies which have two or three long ‘tails’. The adults do not feed so once in adult form life is simply about laying eggs for the new generation of nymphs which live in the river itself.
St Bees Head tooking north towards Whitehaven (c) Duncan Hutt
St Bees Head nesting seabirds (c) Duncan Hutt
St Bees Head’s wonderful red sandstone cliffs form an impressive vantage point over the Irish Sea. They are well known for their bird colonies, in particular the guillemots and razorbills that nest on the cliff ledges. The numbers of these seemed to be markedly lower than on my last visit, probably over ten years ago. Kittiwakes and fulmars too seemed to be there in lower numbers and the noise and smell, in particular, was less than in the past though accepting that many young have yet to hatch. Elsewhere around the Head were skylark, yellowhammer and whitethroat singing and a small group of linnets that kept passing by.
Cliff top bluebells (c) Duncan Hutt
Common vetch (Vicia sativa) (c) Duncan Hutt
In contrast the wild flowers seemed to be in even greater abundance than previously; the cliff top bluebells particularly striking to the north part of the Head and the thrift further south. In amongst these carpets of blues or pinks were plants such as the common vetch, buck’s-horn plantain and sea campion.
At last there are a few butterflies around although most of them were whites. However, one rather ragged peacock was also to be seen, an overwintering survivor that has had to wait rather a long time for some warm spring weather to arrive.
Winter worn peacock butterfly (c) Duncan Hutt
Cuckoo flower (Cardemine pratensis) with Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) behind
The wet fields by the River Pont in Stamfordham burst into spring colour at this time of year with the robust yellow flowers of marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) and the more subtle lilac of cuckoo flower (Cardemine pratensis). The cuckoo flower is an important foodplant of a couple of butterflies, the orange tip and the green-veined white.
Green-veined White (Pieris napi)
It’s been an appalling spring for butterflies so far this year but the small yet robust green-veined whites are made of sterner stuff. These are probably the most widespread of all our butterflies, coping with some harsher upland conditions than are found in Stamfordham. They look very similar to their cousins the large and small whites which are both more often known as cabbage whites. These green-veined whites often also get lumped in with the rest but cause little harm in the garden. While large and small whites are going for cabbages, sprouts and the like the green-veined whites are just looking for cuckoo flower or garlic mustard, though they may have a go on nasturtiums now and again. The top side of the wings are often dusted in grey but the name comes from the underwing where the veins are picked out with a greenish tinge. The female has a couple of black wing spots on the upper wing which distinguish her from the male of the species.
I, Sally, am trying to finish off some habitat survey work to meet Natural England submission deadlines. It hasn’t been easy so far this year with lots of snow covering everything. Today I returned to an area I surveyed about a month ago to see if any more plants had appeared that would help me categorise it. The lesser celandines were in flower but nothing else. There are a few leaves starting to appear but many are still not easy to identify; even the grass is struggling.
I couldn’t resist taking a few photographs of lichens on fence posts as well; though there was nothing of great excitement!
Dust blown onto the adjacent pasture (c) Duncan Hutt
Dust dunes by the road (c) Duncan Hutt
After a year of rain and then a month of dry and cold weather the most recent problem we have faced in Stamfordham has been dust! A large expanse of land has been cultivated, ploughed and sown, the surface has dried and the recent strong winds have lifted the fine layer of dry dust. Everything is covered in a fine layer but close to the field the dust has resembled sand dunes beginning to encroach on neighbouring fields and on to the road. The recent ploughing activity is unusual, much of this would have been done in autumn with crops already green in the fields. The wet weather prevented access to the fields so a late sowing and delayed germination because of the cold has conspired to create conditions somewhat unusual in Northumberland.
Shetland sheep (c) Sally Hutt
Jess (c) Sally Hutt
We are in charge of the Flexigraze stock at Whittle Dene and Prestwick Carr over the Easter break. Fortunately we also have Jess for her holidays. It is a shame we don’t know how to work her but after a week she is slowly learning to respond to our commands.
Sally took Jess to Whittle Dene this morning to check the 11 Shetlands had stayed where they were put yesterday. They have developed a habit of escaping over the last few weeks as the grass is greener over the fence!
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) (c) Sally Hutt
To give Jess a good run away from the potential of meeting pregnant ewes (that these inexperienced handlers can not risk her meeting) I walked her all the way down the drainage channel.
Cowslip leaves (Primula veris) (c) Sally Hutt
I was impressed with the amount of work that had been achieved by a volunteer work party; the banks had been strimmed of the pesky brambles that are the bane of mine and the sheep’s lives. They also ruin the beautiful Shetland fleeces for felting or hand carding and spinning. The strimming had allowed a coltsfoot flower to poke its head out and I also spotted some primula leaves so I am hoping for cowslips soon. The fixed quadrat posts for vegetation monitoring that I helped fix with my GPS last year have also been given red tops so they can be easily located.
Jess responded very well to my commands and was eyeing the sheep but I didn’t risk taking her too close as the sheep were right down by the road.
Newly painted post (c) Sally Hutt