Monthly Archives: March 2021

A Bird-Filled Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Rose-ringed Parakeet in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, I’ve been noticing the gathering pace of spring’s pulse in the cemetery over the past few weeks, but today the signs were everywhere. There was a pair of rose-ringed parakeets in the plane trees close to the chapel, and what a picture they made amongst the tangled branches. The male in the photo above seemed to have a desultory interest in the bauble-like seedheads on the tree, but I could see that he wasn’t very impressed.

His lady friend was on the other side of the tree, about five metres away. They had the air of a long-married pair, surveying their kingdom and trying to decide whether to change the colour of the carpets.

They add such a dash of colour to a dull, still day.

Further along the path, a crow carrying a twig flew into the tree and seemed to be trying to rearrange its burden so that it was easier to carry, before heading off to its nest.

The blossom is really splendid too. Every week I think that it’s at the top of its game, but every week it seems more and more splendid.

I keep thinking that the lesser celandine must  be close to its peak too, but actually I think it’s got a few weeks to go yet. Before I started the blog I wonder if I would even have noticed it, let alone known what it was.

And I’ve grown very fond of this patch of red deadnettle too.

A pair of herring gulls were hanging out near the ant hill, where we’ve spotted green woodpeckers on previous weeks. These two seemed more interested in possible earthworms, and flew off as soon as we got within thirty metres. The bigger the bird the shyer they are it seems.

And then here is something rather exciting, though it might not look it. This is Danish scurvygrass, a member of the cabbage family that has become more common in urban areas because it loves salt, and so thrives in areas where the roads are salted during icy weather. I shall say more in the Wednesday Weed this week, so for now here is a portrait of this unassuming little plant.

And I wonder why some daisies have these bright red petals? They look as if they’ve been snogged by a lipsticked fairy.

There’s some more splendid blossom here too, along with the misty new growth on the trees in the background.

And then here’s a treat. Have a listen to this and see if you know what it is.

Well, sitting at the top of an ash tree was this little chap.

It’s a Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europeaea) and this one was absolutely singing his head off. Spring is definitely in the air! I’m more used to seeing these birds running along a tree branch rather than sitting boldly on a treetop.

As we cross the stream, we notice that a lot of undergrowth has been cut back, and there are some beehives! Well, there are certainly lots of plants in the cemetery to keep them happy, though I don’t see any activity at the moment.

And then it’s back towards the wild part of the cemetery, past yet more lesser celandine and some more blossom.

And while my heart will always belong to the swamp cypress (who is still looking rather drab at the moment) I think that this tree is sneaking up into my favourites list, if only for its remarkable width to height ratio….

I am much perked up also by my very first violets – there’s an area where they carpet the ground but it’s a bit off our usual route, so I’ll make a special trip next week. Whenever we had a family holiday in the West Country as children, Mum would end up buying something that went by the name of Dorset or Devon Violets – hand cream or talcum powder or something similarly heavily scented. Most of the violets in the cemetery are dog violets so they have no smell, but sweet violets must be really something.

And finally, as we pass the stumpery that I noticed a few weeks ago, I see that it’s crowned by a single parrot tulip. Did someone plant it I wonder, or did it pop up there of its own accord? It seems most incongruous, but very cheering.

And finally, as I walk back along East Finchley High Road I see that the shrubs outside the retirement flats have been pruned. In the middle of one is this object. It looks to me remarkably like a blackbird nest, and yet it’s completely interwoven with shreds of plastic. Some days, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Saturday Quiz – What’s That Moth?

Title Photo by gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

A Six-Spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipendulae)

Dear Readers, I have long been fascinated by the descriptive common names of moths – it’s pretty clear why the one above is called the six-spot burnet, for example. So let’s see if we can match the names in the list below to the photos of the moths. I’ve tried to pick ones where the names describe what you’re looking at, so even if you aren’t familiar with British moths you can hopefully have a go. One thing this quiz has really made me want to do is to get out my humane moth trap to see what’s on the wing at the moment, so watch this space!

As usual, all answers in the comments by 5 p.m. UK time next Thursday (25th March), please. Answers will be posted on Friday 26th. I shall disappear your answers as soon as I see them, but if you don’t want to be influenced, write your answers on a scrap of paper first!

Pick your moth from the list below. So, if you think that the moth in Photo One is a ruby tiger, your answer is 1) a)

Onwards, and good luck!

Moth Names

a) Ruby Tiger

b) Large Emerald

c) Gothic

d) Leopard Moth

e) Red-belted Clearwing

f) Swallow-tailed Moth

g) Double Line Moth

h) Argent and Sable

i) Peach Blossom

j) Number Eighty

k) Bloodvein

l) Scorched Wing

Photo One by By Rasbak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7195872

1)

Photo Two by By Edward H. Holsten, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org - This image is Image Number 0805048 at Insect Images, a source for entomological images operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA Forest Service., CC BY 3.0 us, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4065666

2)

Photo Three by By Hamon jp - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4938452

3)

Photo Four by Les Round from https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/figure-of-eighty

4)

Photo Five by By User:Chrkl - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=220981

5)

Photo Six by By Charles J. Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38292321

6)

Photo Seven by Iain Leach from https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/argent-sable

7)

Photo Eight by By Kulac - Self-published work by Kulac, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2041063

8)

Photo Nine by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (http://www.entomart.be/contact.html), but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=294710

9)

Photo Ten by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (http://www.entomart.be/contact.html), but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=287301

10)

Photo Eleven by By Mick Talbot - British Moths, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9018635

11)

Photo Twelve by Patrick Clement from West Midlands, England, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

12)

Saturday Quiz – Poisonous Pairs – The Answers!

Title Photo by By Benny Trapp - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12570624

Dear Readers, what a tightly-fought quiz this was! First up, welcome and well done to Oneforestfragment, who got 9/10 for which plant was poisonous and which one wasn’t. Then, for those who also named the plants, we have Mike at Alittlebitoutoffocus with 24.5 out of 30, Claire with 25/30, FEARN with 27 out of 30 and Fran and Bobby Freelove the winners this week with 28 out of 30, so well done everyone! What I’ve done is to give one point for identifying the photo of the  poisonous plant, and then one point for identifying each of the plants. In two cases it turns out that both plants are poisonous to some extent or another, so for fairness I’ve given you a mark which ever one you chose. 

  1. Which of these berries is poisonous, a) or b)?
Photo 1 a by Karelj, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

1) a) Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladona) (Poisonous)

1) b) Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) edible

2) Beautiful fungi, but which can you eat and which will kill you?

Photo 2)a) by Björn S..., CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

2) a) Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystina) edible

Photo 2)b) by Quartl, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

2) b) Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa) Poisonous

3) Two pretty yellow shrubs, but which one could make you sorry that you ever saw it?

Photo 3) a) by CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=484033

3) a) Laburnum (Laburnum amagyroides) poisonous

Photo 3) b) by PaleCloudedWhite, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

3) b) Gorse (Ulex europaeus), harmless

4) Bulbs, eh. But which one wouldn’t you want to mistake for an onion?

Photo 4) a) by Dvortygirl, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

4) a) Daffodil (Narcissus) poisonous

Photo 4) b) by Ɱ, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

4) b) Water Chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) edible

5) One of these is edible. One of them will kill you. But can you tell which is which?

Photo 5) a) by Peter O'Connor aka anemoneprojectors from Stevenage, United Kingdom, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

5) a) Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) edible

Photo 5) b) by Eric Coombs, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

5) b) Water Hemlock, (Conium maculatum) poisonous

6) Common in gardens, but rare in the wild. One of these is sometimes known as the most poisonous wild plant in Britain, but which one?

Photo 6) a) by By Ivar Leidus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 ee, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26560960

6) a) Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris), I thought harmless but apparently the seeds can be poisonous, so you get a mark whichever one you choose here!

Photo 6) b) by Wattewyl (talk), CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

6) b) Monkshood/Wolfbane (Aconitum napellus), poisonous

7) Lovely green leaves, but which are edible?

Photo 7) a) by Guido Gerding, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

7) a) Lords and Ladies/Cuckoopint (Arum maculatum) poisonous

Photo 7) b) by Dinkum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

7) b) Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) edible

8) Pretty as a picture, but which one is poisonous?

Photo 8) a) by Evelyn Simak / Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) - detail of flower

8) a) Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) poisonous

Photo 8) b) by Hectonichus, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

8) b) Red deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), harmless

9) Even some of our commonest weeds are poisonous, but which ones?

Photo 9) a) by Ian Cunliffe / Greater Celandine - Chelidonium majus

9) a) Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), poisonous

Photo 9) b) by Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

9) b) Yellow corydalis (Pseudofumaria lutea), also poisonous!

10) And finally, it’s sometimes the sap that will harm you, especially if you get it in your eye. Always be extra careful after handling which of these plants?

Photo 10) a) by By Sphl - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=790345

10) a) Sunspurge, (Euphorbia helioscopia) the sap is a strong irritant

Photo 10 b) by Greg Hume, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

10) b) Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), harmless and edible.

 

 

 

 

A Quick Walk Around the Garden

Dear Readers, the auditors are in full swing and so although they don’t actually materialise at your shoulder with a lever-arch file and a quizzical expression, they still do the online equivalent, which involves lots of emails and all kinds of fancy software for uploading files. So, today I have spent many hours trying to track down invoices and explain exactly how we’ve allocated people across multiple expense lines. All this detailed work has a tendency to make me grumpy, and so I had a trot around the garden to see what was going on.

First up are the buds on my flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). I am especially fond of this bush because it is the ‘child’ of my original plant, but has flowers that are much paler. It’s in a slightly sunnier spot than its ‘parent’, and must be a good week ahead in terms of flower development. It feels as if spring starts off slowly and then busts out everywhere..

I was looking for some more pond plants, and someone suggested figwort – this is native and a big favourite with the bees, so I bought five and am counting them every night to make sure they haven’t slid off the ledge around the edge of the pond and into the water. This morning there should have been five and I could only see four – when I went out to have a look, one pot had been dragged onto to the path, so that can only be the fox as the pot is too heavy for a cat. I spy what looks like a dead frog at the bottom of the pond as well, so I think I can piece the story together.

The marsh marigold will be out soon too.

We have one tiny cyclamen in flower, it’s been going strong for weeks.

And we’ve planted up yet more foxgloves. Let’s hope these actually get to the flowering stage.

 

I’ve bought some salvias cut price for the pots in the sunny spot at the bottom of the garden – they seemed very potbound to me, but let’s hope they’ll survive. The trouble with this location is that I can’t see the pond, though it is a lovely enclosed spot – I’m hoping to get so much pollinator-action going that I don’t aggravate my poor husband by leaping up to see what’s going on in the rest of the garden. We can only hope.

And the grape hyacinths look as if they’ll bloom soon, though there is a very high leaf to flower ratio. I’m thinking that I missed a trick and should have planted them next to the pond to provide some frog-cover. Next year!

And then there are my biennials – the angelica is doing well, and I’m really hoping for some flowers this year.

And for some teasel flowers – I think this is also technically a biennial (correct me if I’m wrong) but I’m hoping for lots of babies. I need to get stuck into those greater willowherb plants that are erupting too (you can just see them in the bottom left-hand corner) otherwise they’ll be everywhere. It looks rather as if the slugs have been having a go too, but hopefully the teasel can outgrow them.

 

And finally, the meadowsweet is popping through – this is such a boon for the hoverflies. If only I had a bigger garden, I think I might plant some more.

And so I head back for my laptop refreshed. At this time of year you only have to turn your back for a second and something pops up in the garden, so it’s good to keep a daily eye on things. Who knows what will happen next?

Wednesday Weed – Mimosa/Silver Wattle

Mimosa/Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata)

Dear Readers, you would think that I would pay more attention to something as bright and yellow as this small tree, especially as there is one in full flower next door as I speak. But, for some reason, the sheer magnificence of this Australian plant has past me by until this Saturday, when I stood in a hailstorm trying to take a few pictures. It really is an eye-blasting explosion of sunlight on a freezing cold March day, so I decided to try to find out some more about it.

Firstly, Mimosa is a member of the bean family (Fabaceae). All of the plants in the genus Acacia are found in Australasia, and all of them are fire-adapted, something that probably dates back at least 20 million years. The plant has deep roots, its seeds may germinate more quickly after being exposed to fire, and mature stands of trees can regenerate after a fire has passed through. However, the plant’s Achilles heel, at least in the UK, is its lack of frost tolerance – an extended period below -5 C is enough to kill young plants. I can only think that the two that I know of in East Finchley are protected by the urban heat island effect, whereby the warmth radiating from the buildings stops the temperature from dropping too far for too long.

Mimosa, in its native habitat, is a coloniser species, much as birch is in the UK. It cannot withstand being shaded out by bigger trees, and it has a short life span of only 30 to 40 years, which might explain why it isn’t as popular as it might be as a street tree, in spite of all the ‘Acacia Avenues’ of suburbia.

The flowers of the mimosa are given to women on International Women’s Day in Italy, Russia, Georgia and Armenia, and I remember seeing lots of small boys dressed as Batman and Superman, lots of little girls dressed as princesses, and lots of mothers carrying bunches of mimosa flowers. The smell of the plant is difficult to describe, but it has a sweet floral quality that is rather appealing. Not that I could smell it on Saturday, what with little ice pellets bouncing off my head, but I can still remember it.

The feathery foliage is very appealing too.

Photo One by By Stephencdickson - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60595557

New growth on Mimosa (Photo One)

The plant’s alternative common name, Silver Wattle, might refer to a white lichen which colonises the plant in Australia, or possibly to the silvery tint of the foliage of the canopy in a mature tree. ‘Wattle’ comes from an old word for ‘weave’, and the fibre of the tree has been used by the indigeonous Ngunnawal people of Australia to make rope for millenia. The Ngunnawal also use the sap as glue, the timber for tools and the seeds to make flour.

Photo Two from https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/items/403953

Nineteenth Century Timber Sample from Victoria Museum, Australia (Photo Two)

Sadly, not everyone loves the Mimosa – it is considered an invasive alien in South Africa and New Zealand, and also gives cause for concern in Spain. I’m sure that its pioneering nature can cause a veritable thicket of mimosa to emerge at the drop of a hat.

The whole Wattle/Acacia family can be considered as a symbol of Australia – the plant features on the country’s coat of arms, along with the kangaroo and the emu. The green and gold colours of the Australian cricket team are said to be inspired by the plant, and when the surviving soldiers left the Gallipoli peninsula, their chaplain is said to have planted wattle seeds so that something of Australia would be left behind. During the First World War, mothers would send sprigs of wattle in their letters to their sons, and this inspired a poem by A.H Scott of the 4th Battery of the A.F.A. I suspect that there is no homesickness like that of a young man facing his death on the other side of the world.

A Little Sprig of Wattle

My mother’s letter came today,
And now my thoughts are far away
For inbetween its pages lay
A little sprig of wattle.

“The old house now looks at its best,”
The message ran: “the country’s dressed
In spring’s gay cloak, and I have pressed
A little sprig of wattle”.

I almost see that glimpse of spring
The very air her seems to ring
With joyful notes of birds that sing
Among the sprigs of wattle.

The old house snug amidst the pines,
The trickling creek that twists and twines
Round tall gum roots and undermines,
Is all ablaze with wattle.

Australian Coat of Arms (Public Domain)

Photo Credits

Photo One by By Stephencdickson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60595557

Photo Two from https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/items/403953

New Scientist – Frog News!

Photo One by By Marshal Hedin from San Diego - Oophaga pumilio (Strawberry poision frog)Uploaded by Jacopo Werther, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24872534

The strawberry poison dart frog (Oophaga pumilio) (Photo One)

Dear Readers, as the frogs return to my pond I found myself curious about frogs in general, so off I went to New Scientist. First up, here is the strawberry poison dart frog. In the archipelago of Bocos del Toro, Panama, the frogs vary greatly in colour according to which island they live on, although they are all the same species. Wildlife photographer Paul Bertner headed off to the islands, accompanied by his Panamanian guide who had won one of the islands on a gameshow. It isn’t clear why the frogs on the different islands look so different – presumably the colours give them an advantage in each habitat, so my guess would be that there are slight variations in plant cover and predators. Sadly, some of the colour variants are already becoming rare, because there’s a market for them amongst exotic amphibian collectors. Leave the frogs alone, people! Amphibians and other exotic animals are extremely difficult to rear and breed in captivity, and I dread to think how many die because their conditions aren’t correct. I speak, sadly, from experience, having tried to keep reptiles and amphibians in my twenties. I soon realised that this is a very tricky area which requires specialised knowledge.

Still, here are some of the photos that Bertner captured of the wild frogs, and very pretty they are too. You would never guess from looking at them that they were the same species.

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (Photo by Paul Bertner)

Strawberry poison dart frog (Photo by Paul Bertner)

You can see all the photos and read the article by Alice Klein here.

From rainbow frogs to fluorescent ones. Scientist Julián Faivovich has found that the polka-dot tree frog of the Amazon basin is the first one that glows in the dark. making it 30% brighter at twilight than other frogs. It’s known that many microorganisms fluoresce, and so do some fish and sea turtles – in other words, they have substances in their skin that absorb light at one wavelength, and emit it at a longer one. Faivovich believes that although this species is the first amphibian which has been proven to fluoresce, it’s unlikely to be the only one – there are 5000 species of frog, so for this to have evolved just once is very unlikely.

The fluorescence happens at a wavelength that the frog can see, and so it’s probably useful for signalling and for communication although, as with so much about frogs, it’s still a mystery.

You can read the whole article by Sam Wong here.

Photo Two by By Erfil - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20721069

Polka-dot tree frog (Hypsiboas punctatus) in daylight….(Photo Two)

Photo Three by By Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation), CC BY 2.5 ar, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69469705

…and when seen under ultraviolet light (Photo Three)

In other good news, a new species of frog discovered in a protected forest in India in 2019 is the only living member of a lineage that dates back millions of years. The starry dwarf frog (Astrobatrachus kurichiyana) is only two centimetres long with an orange stomach. Interestingly, the number of frog species identified in India has leapt from 200 to 400 species over the past few decades, which just goes to show what you can find when you look. You can read the whole article by Adam Vaughan here.

Starry Dwarf Frog (Photo by Seenapuram Palaniswamy Vijayakumar)

And finally, you may be aware that frog species all over the world are being decimated by chytrid disease, a fungal disease of amphibians. Frogs are widely seen as the ‘canaries in the coalmine’ by ecologists, due to their acute sensitivity to changes in their habitat. Many zoos and institutions have been in a race against time, taking whole frog populations into captivity to preserve them and breed them, with the hope that they will be able to be reintroduced into the wild when a cure for the fungal disease is found, and when their habitats are secure. So it was great to see that some populations of frogs do seem to be developing immunity to chytrid, provided that there are enough of them and their habitat is not too degraded.

The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae) lives in the mountainous regions of California, but its population has been in decline for years. This is partly due to the stocking of the rivers where it lives with non-native trout, who eat the frog’s tadpoles, but the frog really started to decline when chytrid hit in the 1970’s. By 2000 the frog had disappeared from 93% of its habitat, and was classified as endangered. However, the good news is that the frog appears to be bouncing back, with an annual population growth of 11%. Scientist Roland Knapp puts this down partly to the Park Service’s good sense, as they stopped stocking the river with trout in 1991. However, the frogs that have survived chytrid now appear to have some resistance to the fungus, allowing the population to recover. This has also been observed in the Stony Creek frog in Australia, which also appears to have developed resistance.

However, scientists are cautious – in areas with tiny, isolated populations, or where there is already significant habitat degradation, it will be a lot harder for the frogs to survive long enough to develop resistance. It seems that those dedicated frog conservationists battling to save these animals will be busy for quite a while yet.

You can read the whole article by Brian Owens here.

Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged frog (Photo by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark/Getty)

Photo Credits

Photo One by By Marshal Hedin from San Diego – Oophaga pumilio (Strawberry poision frog)Uploaded by Jacopo Werther, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24872534

Photo Two By Erfil – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20721069

Photo Three by By Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation), CC BY 2.5 ar, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69469705

The Return of the Frogs

Dear Readers, there are certain events during the year that mark the passing of the seasons. The Great Garden Birdwatch at the end of January always reminds me that we are past mid winter, and that spring will soon return. The arrival of the fledgling starlings in May marks the very height of summer’s activity for me, regardless of the fact that the school holidays haven’t even started. But the most exciting event of the year is when I first hear the frogs singing for the first time. It’s never very loud – usually just an apologetic little high-pitched wheeze – but it tells me that the males have come out of hibernation, and are hoping for a lady frog to visit.

I actually saw my first frog almost a month ago, but the beginning of March was very cold, and so I think everyone gave up and went back to bed. But the first frogspawn appeared earlier this week, and the courting rituals are now in full swing. Strangely enough, this year the frogs have chosen to spawn in the plant pots at the side of the pond – the water level is a bit lower, so maybe they feel more comfortable here amongst the marsh marigolds and the water mint. At any rate, it looks like being a bumper year.

I am always surprised by the size and colour differences between the frogs. There are some whopping big females, and some titchy males (the females are generally larger, but there are some very diminutive chaps this year). The reflections on the water don’t help with judging size, I know. 

I imagine that they frogs don’t have the facial muscles to be very expressive, but they always look so placid regardless of what’s going on.

They are mysterious creatures, frogs. Where do they go to once they’ve bred, and where do they come from in the first place? I have some frogs in the pond for most of the year, but the others disperse to goodness only knows where. I suspect that they are having a party under the wooden steps, or hanging out in the woodpile by the side of the shed. I don’t know where they lived before I made the pond, but the first frog arrived within six weeks of it going in. They are such common creatures, and yet we know so little. I’m just glad that they turn up every year, to cheer me up with their impassive faces and mating shenanigans. If you have a garden it is so worth putting in some water for the critters, even if it’s only a tiny pool. You will be amazed at what turns up.

A Windy Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, it’s been a right old mixture of weather today – I’ve been pelted with hailstones, baked in the sun, rained on and nearly blown over. But it’s also been rather exhilarating – in the Alps they say ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute’ and that could have been the mantra for today as well.

As it’s the day before Mother’s Day, the cemetery was very busy. One man stopped me to ask where the chapel was, as he knew his Mum was buried close by, but wasn’t sure exactly where. Sadly, there are two chapels and a crematorium in the cemetery, so all I could do was send him off to the most likely one and keep my fingers crossed. At 190 acres, the cemetery is enormous, and it’s very easy to get turned around. I hope he found what he was looking for.

In spite of the weather, the blossom is looking very fine. Apparently the flowers on this cherry develop a ring of pink at the base of the stamen when they’ve been pollinated, as an indication to bees to head off to another bloom.

And the primroses are in flower in the woodland grave area. I love how some pale pink ones always seem to turn up, planted or not.

There seems to have been quite a lot of tree-felling this week. I have to bear in mind that this is a cemetery, and people die, and space is needed to bury them in. I do hope that some of the much-needed wildness is preserved, though. This cemetery has been a godsend for so many people this year.

I find some daffodils that I rather like, with pale cream flowers and a lemon-yellow trumpet, plus there are some of those miniature ones that I have a soft-spot for.

But my heart is really with the wildflowers, like the red deadnettle that’s flowering in such profusion. There are quite a few bumblebee queens about, being buffeted by the wind, and plants like this are a god send.

The feverfew will be open soon, too – I love the buds, they look like tiny buttons.

 

Off to the loos (another godsend, especially on a windy day like today – there’s something about chilly breezes and bladders that seems intertwined). On the way, we pass the three mallards that we saw last week: what looks like a mated pair, and a lone drake. What’s going on, I wonder? Is the lone drake hopeful that he can woo the female, or is he from last year’s brood, or is he just lonely?

And there are some goat willow catkins, which will soon be full of bees, I have no doubt. I sometimes think about finding a miniature willow for next to my pond, but I’m not sure if there is any such thing. I know that these catkins are a very useful source of pollen at this point in the year. Actually, I think the Kilmarnock willow is a tiny version of the goat willow, now I come to think of it – any experience, readers?

Goat willow catkins

We trundle on through a rain storm, stopping briefly to admire this splendid cherry.

And then it’s a quick loop through Kew Road and Withington Road, the least-peopled part of the cemetery. It is full to busting with lesser celandine, which carpets the woods with its heart-shaped green leaves and shiny yellow flowers.  In a month or so it will be completely gone, and the bluebells and Queen Anne’s lace will have taken over, but for now it’s definitely in charge.

Someone has left some chestnuts and hazelnuts on a tree-stump for the squirrels. By the nibbling, I’m sure they’re extremely grateful.

And the sun pops out for a few minutes.

The crocuses are mostly gone, but are hanging on in a few places.

And I rather like the spots where the daffodils have gone feral amongst the brambles and the ash saplings.

And as if to prove that lesser celandine is not the only buttercup in these parts, here is a very early creeping buttercup, pointing its sunny little face up to the sky with what I can only hope is not misplaced confidence in the beginning of spring.

Actually, the strongest sign of spring to me is not the lesser celandine, it’s the leaves of the cow parsley popping up through the dead leaves wherever I look. The very first of the umbellifers to flower around here, the white flowers will probably begin to open in late April.

But then, they will be superseded  by the hogweed, and today I saw my first hogweed leaves emerging from the ground. They look so green and toothsome at this stage! And although the flowers of this family can look rather similar, the leaves are a real giveaway.

I love the way that the pace of life quickens at this time of year – the trees are full of robins singing and blue tits arguing, jays and magpies squabbling, squirrels chasing one another. Although we’re still bleary-eyed from winter and lockdown, they are at the high point of their year, with several months of hard work and challenge ahead of them. But how nice to know that, in spite of our human problems, the world still turns, squeaky wheels notwithstanding. There is such pleasure in small things that can be so easily overlooked when things are ‘normal’. I hope we don’t forget about these small pleasures when the world opens up again.

Saturday Quiz – Poisonous Pairs

Title Photo by By Benny Trapp - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12570624

Dear Readers, there are lots of things out there that are poisonous – in other words, if you eat them they will make you ill. The beautiful adder in the photo above isn’t poisonous, but it is venomous (though it’s only likely to be dangerous if you stand on it in your stockinged feet). Have a look at the pairs of photos below. Which one is poisonous, and which one isn’t? One mark for correctly identifying the toxic one out of the pair, with a further two marks up for grabs if you can identify the plants and fungi shown.

I will publish the answers and the scores next Friday (19th March) so get your answers into the comments by 5 p.m. UK time on Thursday 18th March if you want to be marked. I will unapprove any answers in the comments so that the people who come afterwards aren’t influenced but I’m not always notified by the system instantly, so you might want to write your answers down first and stick to them if you don’t want to be swayed by other people.

Onwards!

  1. Which of these berries is poisonous, a) or b)?
Photo 1 a by Karelj, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

1) a)

1) b)

2) Beautiful fungi, but which can you eat and which will kill you?

Photo 2)a) by Björn S..., CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

2) a)

Photo 2)b) by Quartl, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

2) b)

3) Two pretty yellow shrubs, but which one could make you sorry that you ever saw it?

Photo 3) a) by CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=484033

3) a)

Photo 3) b) by PaleCloudedWhite, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

3) b)

4) Bulbs, eh. But which one wouldn’t you want to mistake for an onion?

Photo 4) a) by Dvortygirl, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

4) a)

Photo 4) b) by Ɱ, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

4) b)

5) One of these is edible. One of them will kill you. But can you tell which is which?

Photo 5) a) by Peter O'Connor aka anemoneprojectors from Stevenage, United Kingdom, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

5) a)

Photo 5) b) by Eric Coombs, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

5) b)

6) Common in gardens, but rare in the wild. One of these is sometimes known as the most poisonous wild plant in Britain, but which one?

Photo 6) a) by By Ivar Leidus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 ee, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26560960

6) a)

Photo 6) b) by Wattewyl (talk), CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

6) b)

7) Lovely green leaves, but which are edible?

Photo 7) a) by Guido Gerding, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

7) a)

Photo 7) b) by Dinkum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

7) b)

8) Pretty as a picture, but which one is poisonous?

Photo 8) a) by Evelyn Simak / Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) - detail of flower

8) a)

Photo 8) b) by Hectonichus, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

8) b)

9) Even some of our commonest weeds are poisonous, but which ones?

Photo 9) a) by Ian Cunliffe / Greater Celandine - Chelidonium majus

9) a)

Photo 9) b) by Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

9) b)

10) And finally, it’s sometimes the sap that will harm you, especially if you get it in your eye. Always be extra careful after handling which of these plants?

Photo 10) a) by By Sphl - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=790345

10) a)

Photo 10 b) by Greg Hume, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

10) b)

 

 

 

 

Saturday Quiz – Mountain ‘Weeds’ – The Answers

Dear Readers, we have a tie at the top this week, with FEARN and Fran and Bobby Freelove both coming in with 16 out of 20, and Mike from Alittlebitoutoffocus only a tiny bit behind with 13/20, so well done everybody – not an easy quiz! Let’s see if I’ve been kinder tomorrow….

1) Yellow Corydalis ( Corydalis lutea) – originally from the Italian/Swiss Alps

2) Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) – originally from the Himalayas and mountainous regions of China)3) Himalayan Honeysuckle (Lonicera formosa) – originally from (surprise surprise) the Himalayas

4) Trailing Bellflower ( (Campanula poscharskyana) – originally from the Dinaric Alps in what was Yugoslavia

5) Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) – a cheeky one! Actually widespread all over Europe, but originally discovered in the Harz Mountains in Germany

6) Fox and Cubs ( (Pilosella aurantiaca) – originally from the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia, Moldova and Romania

7) Purple Toadflax (Linaria purpurea) from the Italian Alps and Italian Apennine mountains)

8) Gallant Soldier ( (Galinsoga parviflora) – from the Andes

9) Rhododendron ( (Rhododendron ponticum) – from the Himalayas

10) Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) – from the Caucasus Mountains of Russia, Georgia and Armenia