Keep Looking!

Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Friday, 27 May 2016


Large and twisted tree coming into leaf with thinner trees behind.
Sometimes I find I'm so familiar with the area I usually explore, I wish I were somewhere else! And, briefly, I was!

I went for another walk in the Quantocks - this time in a forest . . . or a wood . . . . ? I don't know what the difference is but this wood had a lot of trees in it (which is quite foresty) and I never came to the end of them (which is foresty too). But there was light drifting down through the branches (which is wood-ish) and it was 'magical' not 'frightening' . . . which heads it in the 'wood' direction because, in my mind, a forest has to be at least a little bit disconcerting.

The foot path followed a wide but shallow stream . . . and I followed the path . . . and here are some of the things I saw.

Two dilapidated bracket fungi (green and cream and drooping on trunk of tree.

Fungi. Yup. Lots of Fungi. Here are some on a . . . birch? Um. Are they Birch Polypore Piptoporus betulinus? Um . . . They were about seven inches across and there were more above them in a line up the trunk - spaced into little clumps like this one.

Black ball-shaped fungi on trunk of tree that's fallen across a stream

And little black balls on a dead tree that had fallen across the stream. (I don't know precisely what these kind are but they are similar (only larger) to the ones I came across in a Dorset Beech Wood.)

Pale green plates of (shield-like) lichen on treen.

And lichen? Yes. Lichen!

Silhouette of fern on branch of (sessile?) oak tree.

And ferns? Yes, lots of ferns. Plenty on the ground and some above our heads. Here's one on the branch of what I think is a Sessile Oak.

Herb Robert flower peeping through the leaves of Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana)

Flowers? Yes, there were oodles of flowers.

Here, where the trees are a little thinner and there's a tad more light - a Herb Robert Flower peeping through the leaves of Enchanter's Nightshade! (Which is also a gardener's nightmare.)

Wood sorrel flower peeping through fallen oak leaves, brambles, moss etc

And here's a little Wood-Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella).

See oak leaves and blackberry leaves too?

Wide, shallow stream beside bank of exposed tree roots with wooded hill beyond

And here's the stream.

Hand holding flat stone to show caddis fly cases lifted from shallow stream (in background).
And here are Caddis Fly larvae encased by the little pebbles they have each gathered round them for protection. You might like to enlarge this to see better. And have you noticed how clear the stream is?

And sheep? Yes. Since you ask there were sheep in a field on the other side of the stream at a point where it had taken a bit of a dip. So the field was up on a short bank - and there was a single strand of barbed wire around it.

Most of the sheep were quietly grazing, eyes down. But the ram in with them was running up and down bellowing, its huge fleece swaying dramatically as it leapt up onto a small promontory, roared and ran down again.  And for almost every bellow, a smaller call replied from our side of the stream - only high up so we couldn't see who was making it. On and on it went, bellow, cry, bellow, cry. Of course, as soon as I took out my camera, the ram ran down from the highest, most dramatic part of the view, back into the main body of the field. And the moment I began to film . . .  it ran behind a tree. So here is a video of a ram behind a tree bellowing . . . but listen. Bellow, cry. Below cry. (Then I'll tell you what happened next.)

Well . . . as you see, the ram was heading down to the other end of the field. We followed . . . and round a bend . . . there, waiting for him on the path, were the ewe and the lamb he'd been drawing down from the hill. So out he came from the field - under the barbed wire, along a little beach and over a ford in the stream, went right up to them, greeted them; then turned and started to lead them so he could show them the best place to cross the stream.

But when the ewe and lamb reached the water they hesitated and stopped. It was only a short distance so he was already scrambling up the bank towards the barbed wire but as soon as he realised they'd lost their nerve, he returned to them and encouraged them to get their feet wet. And across they went. And once he could see they really were fording the stream, he walked on a little to wait. And once they'd caught up, he led them under the wire and back into the field - where all of a sudden it was perfectly quiet and peaceful and everyone went back to eating grass.

(You might also like simply to listen to the video without watching. You will hear more that way.)

* * *
Places to go for more information

Caddis Fly  - on the Wildlife Trusts site.
Caddis Fly Larvae  (not for the squeamish) in the Life in Freshwater section section of the Field Studies Council site. 

IDs with the help of iSpot.

Monday, 23 May 2016


National Insect Week happens once every two years - and this is one of those years. So here's a little nudge to watch out for insects around you - maybe to post about them?

I've three to mention.

Merodon equestris (Narcissus Fly)
The first was a bit of a disaster. You know how I said I was sitting in a friend's garden when, instead of politely drinking tea I leapt up and started taking photographs instead?

Well, while I was looking at leaves the sun had chosen to spotlight, I noticed a hoverfly on a leaf. It wasn't moving. It was just sitting there. Ridiculously, I was worried about it straight away. Was it ill? Hungry? Dying?

I say 'ridiculously' because I'm not above sliding my fingers along a stem to rid it of aphids, or clapping my hands together to kill a gnat if it flies into my house. So why did I bother about this hoverfly? (Hover Fly? I'm never sure whether to stick the hover with the fly or leave them apart.) Well, for one things, there's something profoundly different between an individual and a crowd. And for another, it looked a bit like a bumble bee. And for another - when I began this blog I thought a hover-fly is a hover fly is a hoverfly. When I found there are 270 identified species of hoverfly in Britain (*1) . . .  I was . . . . . . gob-smacked! And when I began to peer at those around me with my camera (which I use as a microscope as well as a telescope and as a recorder of images) I was overwhelmed by the beauty in the variety of their colours. So - as you may have gathered - I have a bit of a soft spot for hoverflies.

Ignoring the tea, I tipped a little sugar onto a saucer, added a little warm water, stirred it up and dripped the resulting syrup onto the leaf as a kind of rescue package. I had no idea, no idea whatsoever whether hoverflies drink sugar water . . . but it looked like a bee . . . so I treated it like a bee.

Merodon equestris (Narcissus Fly)
After a while, I gently lifted it and took it to the apple tree and lowered it onto a blossom. It must have been recovering by then, I reckoned, because it immediately spurned that particular blossom, and chose another for itself. I didn't know if it would have any interest in apple-blossom-nectar . . . but a little sugar and a little sunshine was all I had to offer.

I took it's picture and left it to its own devices.

Next . . . look through google images . . . find a possible ID . . . upload the photo to iSpot and hope I was wrong. But I wasn't.

This hoverfly had been sitting on a waning daffodil leaf. This hoverfly was a Narcissus Fly. This hoverfly was a Merodon equestris. This kind of hoverfly lays an egg in the crown of a daffodils. The grub burrows into the bulb, takes up residence and turns it to slush. End of plant! (*2) Oh. Bother. I thought hoverfly larvae eat aphids. Why do there have to be exceptions?

Next up.
Another Hover Fly.

Meliscaieva auricollis?
For all that I've said how often people stop to talk when I'm taking photos, by fortunate chance rarely are they neighbours. But I'd started to take photos of this hover fly (Meliscaieva auricollis?) when a neighbour came down the hill. Just as she hoved a few feet away, a bee (honey bee? a bit too fast to tell) bomb dived the hoverfly and away they flew.
"Oh, you've frightened it!" I exclaimed. Aloud.
(Why do I talk aloud? I don't know. I just do)
My neighbour stopped.
"Not you! You didn't frighten it! It was a bee!"
Then realising she might not understand, I explained about hoverflies as we walked on together . . . and how interesting they are . . . and that although I don't know why I'm interested in finding out which one is which kind . . . I just am . . . even if I forget straight away and have to go back to start every time I see a new one . . . and she seemed to think this was all perfectly acceptable. Phew!

Next up.
This beetle.
A Dor Beetle (Geotrupes) ?

Probably a Dor Beetle
I found it walking along a path through a wood in Somerset. I photographed it from above, from its side and face on. Er. Where is its face? This, I decided, was a spooky monster! Where are its eyes?

Internet to the rescue . . .  to the bizarre . . . to the wonderful. That some beetles have eyes on the tops of their heads so they can see what's above them as well as where they're going.

And, thence . . . to beetles with hats on.

Scientists in South Africa have demonstrated that dung beetles, needing to make a fast get-away with their haul of dung (with a possible wife thrown in) can use the Milky Way as a guide when working out the most direct route from pile to burrow. They aren't interested in stars - just that bright straight line overhead. To check this out, the scientists made little hats for the beetles. Some were clear. Some were dark. The beetles with clear hats could walk in straight lines. Those with darkened ones couldn't. I doubt their counterparts in English woodland would have any chance of walking in a straight line over twigs and under leaves - let alone see the Milky Way through branches and clouds . . . but if you find the idea of beetles in hats appealing - you can read all about them here.

Will you be posting about insects in the next few weeks?
If so, let me know and I'll put the links here.
(Regardless of where you live!)

Here's one from Philip Strange (Science and Nature Writing) 
Love Bugs and Other Surprises at Bantham Beach in South Devon

Probably a Dor Beetle

*1 What are Hoverflies? - on the Microscopy Site
*2 Narcissus Bulb Fly - on the Pacific Bulb Society Site
* * *


ALL ABOUT HOVERFLIES - Including diagram of body parts. This is on the Microscopy site - which includes a 'POND LIFE IDENTIFICATION KIT'.
WHAT IS THAT INSECT? - On site of the Royal Entomological Society
BUG GUIDE.NET - Iowa State University Department of Entymology
NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY - DRAGISA SAVIC (Serbia) - Large collection of clear photographs with IDs - flora, fauna, fungi of the kind you may not find elsewhere. A good place for rusts and lichens. Take time for an eye-opening browse.
IAN BEAVIS ON FLICKR - Photo Gallery with IDs of insects, amphibians etc. . . 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016


Slim apple branch with unopened blossom with a snail on the underside of a leaf.
Snail on an apple tree twig.
Loose and Leafy is primarily for wild plants; street plants and plants of the hedgerows. (Insects too.) From time to time I visit an open-to-the-public kind of garden. Rarely do I show photos from an ordinary garden belonging to an ordinary house. I haven't for ages.

The centre of an apple blossom flower.
Blurry apple blossom
This afternoon, I was meant to be sitting outside, drinking tea, chatting, with music in the background. 

Music is difficult outside. You need it loud enough to appreciate but quiet enough not to bother neighbours. With a bit of fiddling around the sound was perfected . . . and it was all very pleasant.

Part of a bright green, scented geranium leaf, showing its veins.
This scented geranium leaf is not specially blurry but the light pointed it out.
But I can't sit long if there are things to see - even if I'm meant to be engaged in relaxed and friendly chatter. And this afternoon there was a special kind of atmosphere. A storm is brewing and it's taking a while to get to the break-out moment. Sometimes, before a storm, the atmosphere goes clear and everything, even at a distance - especially at a distance! - can be seen in more detail than usual.

Well, having built up your expectations . . . it wasn't that kind of light today. It was . . . not exactly hazy . . . but not quite as clear as it is most of the time either. And there were unaccountable little patches of brightness; a leaf here and another there which seemed to have been out to buy batteries and had turned on torches of their own.

Light shining through a new and upright hosta leaf.
Out-of-focus hosta leaf
So up I got, left the tea on the table . . . and pottered off to look at leaves . . . and things.

But, as I say, the light was odd.

I can't remember having posted out-of-focus-photos before. But this is what I'm doing here. I could pretend I was using some special technique or camera setting; but I wasn't. They just didn't come out right.

At the same time . . . by chance . . . they show what it was like this afternoon. Initially I chucked them aside. But I kept coming back to them. And I like them. There are different kinds of beauty.

(All photos in this post taken on the afternoon of May 17th 2016.)