Friday, 21 April 2017

March 2017

It is March, and the beginning of spring.  It is a good year for plum blossom,  and the trees are covered in masses of white flowers, making the park feel bright and cheerful. This is all helped by a spell of dry settled weather with more sunny days than the pessimists at the Meteorology Office would have us have.

Large bank of cherry plum blossom along one side of path
Bank of Cherry Plum Blossom - 15 March 2017
This bank of blossom bordered the path along the southern boundary of the park

I realise that in writing the second sentence 'It is a good year for plum blossom...' , I risk sounding like a gardener (which I am not) taking proprietorial pride in his crop.  Nevertheless, it is an indicator of how much more aware I am becoming of the changing seasons and the differences from one year to the next.

Large bush laden with blossom, other such bushes visible in the distance
By Dickerson's Pit - 13 March 2017
 At the north end of the park, large bushes like this one laden with blossom
could be seen, which ever way I looked.

I have spent a lot of my life outdoors in the countryside, albeit the compromised landscape of intensive arable farming: as a schoolboy, I chased butterflies and moths; later, I cycled to work; walked at the weekends and on holiday; and, most recently, took the dog for a daily walk.  But in all these activities, the changes in the countryside was a backdrop to the main activity; I was aware of the passing seasons, but took little notice of the detail.  Changes in the weather was always a more immediate concern.

Arch of white blossom over path with more blossom laden trees beyond.
Blossom Arch - 12 March 2017
So abundant is the plum blossom that it forms an arch over the path
and frames another blossom filled bush beyond.

I wrote at the start of this blog, that the challenge was to see the park, that was so familiar to me, with new eyes.  Comparing this year's tree blossom with that of last year suggests a degree success in that direction.

Close up of plum tree with branches thick with flowers
Plum Blossom - 12 March 2017
A close up shot shows just how profuse the blossom is

There seems to be virtually no folklore or legends attached to plum blossom, probably because the plum is not native to the British isles.  The cherry plum was originally introduced for its fruit and grafting stock for domestic plums.  However, the blossom of the cherry plum is used in one of Dr Edward Bach's Flower Remedies as a remedy for people who are in fear of losing control. 

In contrast, where the plum is part of the native flora, in Japan, the blossom is seen as a symbol of spring, and a sign that the worst rigours of winter are past and that better weather is on its way. In China, plum blossom is used for decoration during the spring festival.

Plum blossom is scatted among the stems of hazel bushes
Blossom Among the Hazel Bushes - 13 March 2017
It may simply be because the sun was shining,
but this blossom among the bare hazel stems appeared far more obvious than in previous years.

Originally, I planned to write just a single post about Milton Country Park in March.  But there has been such an explosion of blossom, I now have enough material for three posts.  I decided to restrict this post to the plum blossom alone because of its importance to the appearance of the park at this time of the year.  My next post will be of other blossom in the park during March, followed by a closer look at some of leaf and flower buds developing on the trees and bushes.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Tree Down

On February 23rd, storm Doris swept across England.  Although the centre of the storm passed across northern England and Scotland, the winds in the south of the country were still strong enough to cause considerable damage. In Milton Country Park, a number of trees, mostly the older ivy encrusted willow trees on the eastern edge of Dickerson's Pit, were either uprooted or broken in two.

Root ball of fallen tree
The root ball of fallen trees always seem improbably small.

The park was closed on the day of the storm, and by the time it reopened the following day, all the paths had been cleared of fallen trees.  All the photographs in this post were taken on either February 24 or 26.

Willow tree with trunk snapped in two just above ground level
Willow tree snapped in two.

The root ball of a felled tree always seems impossibly small for the size of the tree above the ground.  The diameter of the roots is far less than I would expect, and there is no long tap root burying deep into the ground.  Yet the leverage exerted by the trunk and crown swaying in even a moderate wind must be quite immense, and, one could well imagine, far too much for such a small anchor.  All those thousands of little roots must effectively stitch the tree into the ground.

Trunk split as if by an axe
Close of fracture gives some idea of the forces involved.

But, even more impressive, are the forces that must be involved to break the trunk of a tree in two, splitting what appears to be quite solid wood in two as cleanly as if cleaved by an axe.  

Fallen tree seen from root end with trunk sawn off at the path
There's a certain sadness about a fallen tree.

The woodland trust are quite clear that ivy does not kill or harm its host.  However, I wonder if the presence of a heavy growth of ivy on a tree in anyway increases its chances of being blown over in a high wind.  The ivy must increase the wind resistance of the tree, which together with the weight of the ivy, must put an extra strain on the root system.  On the other hand, the thick ivy tendrils surrounding the trunk, grounded in their own independent root system, could be acting as guy ropes and actually help to stabilise the system.

Large heap of branches and ivy beside path covered in sawdust
Ivied crown heaped up beside the path

I found the sight of the remains of a once mighty tree lying on the ground quite sad.  On one side of the path was a heap of what appeared to be ivy, but the sawn ends of branches showed it was the canopy of the fallen tree.  On the other side of the path, was a line of  neatly sawn sections of its trunk, which seemed to me to be like chapters of a biography - a life parcelled out into manageable sections and lifeless.  

Four sections of the trunk in a row
The trunk of the tree sawn into neat sections.
However, in time, the wood will become an active biosystem, and provide a home and food for insect larvae and fungi; and, a surface for moss and other small plants to grow on.

Next: March 2017

Saturday, 25 March 2017


January, February 2017.  Winter 2017.  Still no snow.  For two years now, I have been photographing Milton Country Park, and in that time we have had no snow at all.  Unless, that is, you count a flurry of snowflakes in the wind that did not settle and quickly turned to sleet.  But at least this year, we had a spell of bright frosty weather, enough to freeze the water in the pits.

Block of ice sitting on top of frozen water of the pit
Ice on Dickerson's Pit - 24 January 2017
The ice near the shore is richly textured
A texture that is subtely altered around the white lump of ice.

Why do people feel compelled to throw things on the ice?  No sooner had the ice appeared, then stones, logs, branches, balls, and general rubbish littered the frozen surface.  It is as if the sight of its smooth white surface was too much for mortal eyes and had to be covered up.  But as my first photograph shows, the surface of the ice close to the shore is richly textured, even without the debris.

Bare branches of trees in orchard covered in rime
Frosty Orchard - 22 January 2017
Almost the only time I have successfully photographed the orchard.

The same cold spell produced a couple of mornings when conditions were right to cover not only the low growing vegetation, but also the branches of at least some of the trees with rime.

View over Dickerson's Pit, with bare trees and golden reeds
Dickerson's Pit - 14 February 2017
A scene that could easily have been taken three months earlier
but not three months later when leaves on the bushes in the foreground
will completely obscure the view.

Apart from the frost, little has changed over the last couple of months.  The changes that have happened are the gradual growth of plants such as cow parsley, comfrey and nettles.  But this new growth is only a couple of inches high, and make almost no impact on the appearance of the park.

White fluffy clematis fruit catching sun amongst bare branches
Clematis Fruit - 24 January 2017
Fluffy white balls catching the light

Far more apparent are the fluffy white clematis fruit which are still in abundance on the climber, and very noticeable when they catch the low sun.

Small group of snowdrops growing amongst trees
Snowdrops - 19 February 2017
A typical scene in the woods in the park
with an isolated clump of snowdrops growing amongst the trees.

During February, the snowdrops finally blossomed, probably at least a month later than last year.  The name 'snowdrop' refers to the large pendants or drops that were worn by ladies in the sixteenth century either as earrings or on brooches.  I was surprised to find that alternative names for these flowers include death's tear; and that the only folk lore surrounding them is that it is unlucky to take them indoors.

Conversely, snowdrops are seen as a symbol of hope.  One legend has it, that after Adam and Eve were evicted from the garden of Eden, Eve became depressed with the apparently endless  cold wintry weather.  To cheer her up, an angel appeared and changed some of the snowflakes into flowers, as a sign that the dreary weather would eventually cease.

Wooden jetty backed by gold and orange willow trees
Jetty - 26 February 2017
The willows are probably even more colourful in February
than they were in the autumn - their yellowing leaves drab
compared to their branches at the end of winter.

A far more earthly sign of the imminence of spring is the gold and orange colours of the willow branches at this time of year.

Next: Tree Down 

Saturday, 11 March 2017


Sprat-weather - fisherman's slang for those dark depressing days of late autumn and early winter when it never seems to get properly light. It seems such weather is good for catching sprats; perhaps the fish suffer from SAD and lose the will to live. On that basis, December should have been an exceptional month for sprat fishing. Almost every day was damp, and gloomy with a biting cold wind penetrating the thickest of coats.

Glimpse of sun through break in clouds reflected in dark muddy water
Dark Days - 13 December 2016
Sun reflecting in a muddy inlet off Dickerson's Pit

For me, this first image captures the mood of the whole depressing spell, a dark muddy patch of water reflecting a small rare glimpse of the sun. 

An oak leaf stuck in the grooves of a white frosty table top
Frosty Cheer - 8 November 2016
The frost provides little more than a white backdrop to the colourful leaf 

Enough of the gloom and a whole lot more cheerful picture! It has not all been grey murk. There have been spells of bright frosty weather, although there have been none of those gloriously pretty winter mornings when all the trees are covered in rime. At most, only the table tops, the grass and the low growing vegetation in the more open parts of the park have been covered in rime. This picture was taken on the first frosty day of the season at the beginning of November.  The brightness of such sunny mornings more than make up for the cold.

Moss on a Precipice - 8 November 2016
Again the frost brightens up the picture

I love the way a photograph can remove any sense of scale, and literally make a mountain out of a molehill (or vice versa). In this case, the moss growing on one of the planks of a table top is left teetering on the edge of a precipice.

Frost Candyfloss - 5 December 2016
The brown of the dead grass at the base of the plant, and
the colour of the trees in the background, underline how little
was affected by the frost.
A further brief frosty spell at the beginning of December, painted the grass and low growing vegetation with a veneer of ice, and left this plant looking like a stick of white candy floss.

Close up of sprays of winter jasmine
Winter Jasmine in the Sensory Garden - 2 January 2017
This winter jasmine climbs over the gate to the sensory garden
With most of the trees now bare, the only bright colours in the park were to be found in the garden. The bright yellow of the winter jasmine climbing over the gateway to the sensory garden bringing some much needed good cheer to the day.

Small dogwood bush, red and yellow surrounded by copper beech hedges
Dogwood - 2 January 2017
The bright yellow and reds of the dogwood,
eclipse the copper beech

In the garden opposite, the dogwood stood out brightly against the dull copper of the beech hedge and very muted greens and browns of the bushes and trees behind. 

Next: Winter  

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A Foggy Day

February 5 was the first seriously foggy day we have had for many months.  Although the fog did not penetrate the woody areas of Milton Country Park, it was sufficiently thick to obscure the opposite banks of the major pits in the park.
View down jetty into the mist with trees on opposite bank only visible as a slightly darker shade of grey
Jetty - 5 February 2017
The trees on the opposite bank are barely visible

Fog is a thief of vision.  It drains the landscape of colour and detail, leaving only the vaguest of details looming in the grey light.  I notice that the dictionary definition of loom is to appear indistinct and in an enlarged form.  Is this because the eye has nothing else to fix on in the monotonous gloom, and fills the space with anything it can discern? 

Bridge between thick bushes loom darkly in the mist
View of a Bridge - 5 February 2017
One of the bridges between Deep Water and Dickerson's Pit

The photograph above and the one below were both taken from the end of the jetty looking towards Deep Water. 

Dead reeds in foreground with large trees in fog behind
Dickerson's Pit - 5 February 2017

In this second image, there is a hint of colour in the reeds in the foreground. 

Vaguely discernible in fog, a cormorant on a branch with gulls in the background
Birds in the Mist - 5 February 2017
Cormorant on island in middle of Dickerson's Pit

Loom has connotations of menace.  The featureless landscape becomes disorientating, and the silence, so often a feature of thick fog without any wind, can be disconcerting.   The smallest sound is magnified - a bird's warning cry becomes a siren, as the mind invents what it can't detect.   

What I hadn't appreciated before is how white objects appear so luminous in the gloom. In the middle of Dickerson's Pit, between the end of the jetty and the opposite shore, there are a couple of small islands.  Even with some image intensification, this cormorant on a branch on one of these islands, is only just discernible. In contrast, the white gulls behind seem to positively glow.

View down Dickerson's Pit, with reed beds in the foreground, bushes and islands in the backgrouond.
Looking South Down Dickerson's Pit - 5 February 2017

Moving around, this photograph is a long view down Dickerson's Pit. Like the previous image, the swan and the white gulls stand out in the gloom.

One large brown reed and two small ones in water with nothing else visible.
Reeds - 5 February 2017

To an extent, fog is the photographer's friend: in blanketting out anything except the foreground, it can leave the subject of the picture isolated against a background of studio simplicity.  

Next: Sprat-Weather 


Saturday, 11 February 2017


Ivy is the elephant in the living room of the countryside: it is always there but almost completely ignored.  It is not beautiful or photogenic; it is not exotic; it does not have brilliant flowers, and, its black berries are all but invisible.  Yet, it is a major factor in the appearence and atmosphere of Milton Country Park.

Close up of ivy leaves
Ivy Leaves - 22 March 2016

In parts of the park, ivy not only festoons the the trunk of every tree with a thick, shaggy green coat, it also carpets the ground beneath. Together with long tendrils hanging down from the branches, these areas take on the atmosphere of a lush forest.  

A clump of trees every one with heavy ivy load.
Ivied Trees - 29 January 2017
The thick ivy tresses on the trunks, fill the space between the trees
making a wall of green.

Ivy and Wildlife

But is ivy a friend or a foe?  Contrary to what some may think, ivy does not kill trees.  It is not a parasite, and uses the trees purely for support; it derives all its nutrients from its roots.  It is easy to believe that ivy is the culprit, when you see a dying tree, its crown completely infested with the plant.  However, the host had to be moribund before the ivy could grow that much, as a healthy tree canopy can provide more than enough shade to deny the ivy the light it needs for photosynthesis and growth.  

Ivy tendrils hanging down from overhead branches
Ivy Tendrils - 18 September 2016
Tendrils hanging down give a tropical forest feel to the woods

Ivy is undoubtedly of great value for wildlife.  Its dense foliage provides a place where birds can nest, bats can hide, and insects hibernate. Its leaves are eaten by a number of insects, including the angle shades moth.  Ivy flowers are an important source of nectar at a time of year when there are few other sources.  Its berries provide food for a number of birds including blackbirds, thrushes and black caps. This winter, the berries have been disappearing as soon as they are ripe.

Ivy leaves all small many red growing on the ground
Ivy Covered Bank - 6 February 2017
Ivy provides a thick ground cover, with leaves turning a rich red during autumn


Ivy is rich in folk lore and mythology. Its main claim to fame is its eponymous reference in the carol 'The Holly and the Ivy'; although ivy is not mentioned at all after the first line.  The holly in this carol represents Christ, the reference to ivy is probably a hangover from earlier traditions which linked the two plants.  In fact, during the fifthteenth and sixteenth century there were a number of holly and ivy carols.

Tree trunk completely covered with thick ivy tendrils
Ivy Tendrils - 24 February 2015
It is difficult to believe that ivy is harmless, when the whole trunk of a tree is smothered in its tendrils

In these early traditions, holly represents the male and ivy the female.  Ivy would be brought into the house at Christmas as a symbol of fertility.  It was thought to be bring good luck to women; and if grown on the walls of the house protect its inhabitants against witch craft.  Drinking ivy vinegar was said to protect against the plague.

Ivy flowers wreathed around tree trunk
Ivy Flowers - 15 October 2016
Note the lanceolate shaped leaves on the flowering branches

Ivy was sacred to Bacchus, the god of wine and orgies, who wore a crown of ivy, which gave him immortality.  To the Romans, ivy was also a symbol of intellect, and winners of poetry competitions were awarded a wreath of ivy.  

A bunch of ripe ivy berries
Ivy Berries - 3 February 2017
Rich food source for birds
 the berries start disappearing from the bushes as soon as they are ripe


Further Reading

Ivy - Friend or Foe? 
The Importance of Ivy to Insects  

English Ivy Symbolism, Traditions and Mythology
Folklore in My Garden - Ivy
Ivy - Hedera helix

Next: A Foggy Day

Saturday, 28 January 2017


Over the last couple of months, I have been hunting for fungi in Milton Country Park, with more success than I had expected. Fungi are neither numerous nor prominent in the park and I have only ever seen the odd one or two in the years I have been visiting there. But a fairly determined search during December and January revealed quite a few specimens, mostly small and mostly growing on trees or rotting wood. The restricted habitat in which I found the fungi may simply reflect the time of year, and there may well be more mushrooms and toadstools in the park at other times of year, which I have simply overlooked.

Close up of a clump of Jelly Ear Fungus
Jelly Ear Fungus - 18 December 2016
This fungus is said to be the tormented spirit of Judas Iscariot trying to escape

I feel I should attempt to identify my findings. However, I am no mycologist, and a quick trawl through the relevant sites on the net quickly persuaded me that any names I put to the fungi were unlikely to be accurate. So, instead, I have used vernacular and generic terms, which may still be wrong, but, because of their imprecision, are unlikely to seriously mislead anyone.

Bracket Fungus - 13 January 2017

Fungi occupy a shadowy in between position in the natural world, neither plant nor animal. Many, including myself, may see them more as plants without chlorophyll; but, there are larger differences which dictate they are classified in a separate kingdom.

Moss growing on the top of a clump of bracket fungus
Bracket Fungus - 13 January 2017
Old bracket fungus now providing a suitable surface for moss to grow on

In some ways, they occupy a similar position in mythology and folklore: of this world, but part of the unseen world of fairies, gnomes and goblins. There are plenty of general, unspecific, references to the importance of fungi in folklore, without any details being given. The one exception, are fairy rings, which I have not seen in Milton Country Park.

Large plates of bracket fungus attached to log floating on water
Bracket Fungus on Floating Log - 22 January 2017
The largest fungus I found in the Country Park
Like trees, fungi add growth rings each growing season
On that basis, I reckon these specimens are over ten years old.

I did find one fungus in the park that has folklore attached: the Jelly Ear fungus. The Bible relates that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an elder tree in shame after betraying Jesus. This ear-like fungus, which is found on elder, was thought to be the tormented spirit of Judas trying to escape. It was originally name Judas's Ear, which was later shortened to Jew's Ear - a name that has now fallen of favour because of its anti-semitic overtones.

Clumps of stags horn fungus growing on a moss covered tree stump.
Stag's Horn Fungus - 22 January 2017
Also known as the Candlesnuff Fungus because it glows in the dark
However, its bioluminescence is so feeble, in these days of light pollution, an image intensifier is needed to see it

Most of the fungi that I found were bracket fungi, a group of fungi of many different genera that grow on trees and are of a similar shape. There are both saprophytic and parasitic members in the group, the latter of which will prove fatal for the host tree. Bracket fungi are long lived and specimens at least twenty years old and weighing up to three hundred pounds have been reported.

Mass of toadstools pushing way up out of ground.
Toadstools - 10 April 2016

I have found three types of fungus which are not bracket fungus: one - the stag's horn fungus  which was growing on a rotten tree stump; while the other two appeared to be free living.

In April last year, I had come across a clump of toadstools breaking through the soil.  Two derivations are suggested for the name 'toadstool': one from the German 'tod' - death, and 'stuhl' - stool; the other based on a belief in the Middle Ages that, as they were poisonous, they were associated with toads.

Small delicate translucent white toadstool growing in leaf litter.
Among the Leaf Mould - 22 December 2016

Finally, I found this tiny toadstool growing among the rotting leaves. My first reaction was that it was immature, but clearly its fruiting body is fully developed, and this must be its final size.

Mites Eggs


Small spherical eggs attached to leaf by a stalk.
Mites Eggs - 22 January 2017

While photographing some fungi on a fallen twig, I noticed small white dots on a nearby fallen leaf. I assumed that this was some form of fungi. The photograph reveals that each white dot, about the size of a pinhead, is attached to the leaf by a very slender stalk. After further research, I have concluded that these are in fact mites' eggs. I went back two days later to try to get a better photograph, but by then wind, rain, and passing animals had disturbed the leaves, and the affected leaf was lost.

Further Reading

Fungi Families/Types Identity Parade
The Fungus Amongst Us  
Polypore - Wikipedia
Why This Weird Looking Mushroom is Called “Jew’s Ear” 
Tree Bracket Fungus 
Xylaria hypoxylon (L.) Grev. - Candlesnuff Fungus  

Next: Ivy