Thursday, 3 August 2017

Yorkshire, orchids and Raigmore - quite a month

As I type, weeding the veg patch, packing up and saying cheerio to Jackie and Colin in the chalet before heading south on holiday, seems like an age away, particularly as on our return, daily visits to Raigmore hospital took over.  We had a few days with Janet’s mum before heading over the ‘border’ into Yorkshire for our two weeks holiday in Masham.  My circular morning walk from Janet’s mums flat took in the Asda supermarket grounds, Milnshaw park, an ex-mill ‘lodge’ (small lake) and the 
Mute swan family
Common blue damselfly
houses and gardens and amassed a total of 23 bird species, all comprising the usual suspects.  A longer afternoon walk saw us get as far as the Leeds and Liverpool canal where the sun had tempted out lots of common blue damselflies but the swan family was unlucky in that we didn’t have any food for them, not that they looked in need of anything.  There was also lots of the gypsywort plant (Lycopus europaeus), a plant which tested out our plant ID knowledge when we found a tiny population in South Uist a few years ago.  We departed Accrington on a soggy day with fairly constant rain.  Our route took us past the famous Ribblehead Viaduct where a roadside outcrop of limestone pavement suggesting it was a good place for lunch.  Sandwiches in hand, I left Janet in the car whilst I ventured out into the rain to say hello to the usual limestone ferns such as hart’s tongue and wall rue, but brittle bladder fern was new for the location.  I was aware that in the distance a diesel train was making its way along the line from Ribblehead Station and on to the viaduct, heading north to Carlisle.  As I got back to the car I was then aware of a steam train following the same route 
Ribblehead Viaduct minus steam train!
and wondered if this would be a chance to achieve a long-held hope, to photograph a steam train on the viaduct.  There wasn’t time to dig out the ‘big’ camera and telephoto lens so the wee Panasonic was my only hope as we drove the car a little way back along the road to try and get a better view.  Perfect.  To avoid the rain, we stayed in the car and as the train made its way onto the viaduct I was all set up and ready.  However, I hadn’t allowed for the wind, and despite photographing the train going all the way over the arches, all I could see was a cloud of steam with a row of carriages 
following on behind!  Just after Hawes we encountered our first groups of travellers making their way to the Appleby Fair and a little further along the road we stopped at a craft shop which also specialised in local Wensleydale cheeses, so, we just had to buy one.  Amazingly, that night we heard that sadly, Peter Sallis had died so I had to pay homage to the part he played in bringing Wallace and Gromit into our homes by having a piece of Wensleydale cheese.

Our first outing of the holiday saw us visiting Ripon with its famous cathedral.  A nice photo of the approach to the cathedral was spoiled by a huge number of vans parked right in front of the main entrance, so on entry we expected to see lots of workmen carrying out repairs.  The lady guide explained a little about the building and its history as we made our way in but also apologised for the 
Ripon Cathedral
vans and cables everywhere because a film crew was on site to film a parliamentary scene for the ITV series ‘Victoria’.  As we were making our way around the building there was a sudden bout of someone speaking and then lots of voices shouting questions or advice – just like our modern-day parliament!  Everything died down and my suggestion to Janet that there would be a second ‘take’ of the scene proved correct when, a few minutes later, the same sequence of voices went through their lines again.  More amazing was then seeing all the cast making their way down from the film set to have their lunch all kitted out in ancient clothes and many men adorned with fancy wigs!  As we 
Actors filming in cathedral
carried on around the cathedral, a very helpful guide pointed out unusual structural features high up in one of the towers caused by the money running out during a major refurbishment a couple of hundred years ago – nothing changes.  Outside, we were a bit puzzled by a plant in the grass in the cathedral grounds which turned out to be creeping cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans) something we couldn’t remember seeing recently.  The next day dawned quite windy and this reduced the number of stalls at Masham market so we pushed on with our walk along the River Ure towards Fearby.  I saw from the map that there was a golf course en route but hadn’t bargained for it covering a huge amount of the start of the walk, a bit too neat for plants and other items of interest.  A few golfers 
Red-legged shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes)
Inside of oak apple (Biorhiza pallida)
approached me as I was staring at a fence post trying to identify a shieldbug with the usual query ‘what are you looking for’?  Sadly, all I could tell them was that I was looking at a shieldbug but wasn’t sure which one because the insect wasn’t a full adult but was at a stage known as final instar and I would need to consult the British Bugs website to arrive at the name red-legged shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes).  No doubt I might have been the topic of conversation in the 19th hole!  Marsh tit was the bird highlight of the walk as was a fresh oak apple gall (Biorhiza pallida) dislodged from a roadside oak by the strong wind.  These large round galls are home to several tiny gall wasp larvae which will emerge as adult wasps later in the summer.

The 8th June 2017 – polling day.  Thankfully, Janet had signed us up for postal votes and these had been filled in and posted before we headed south.  The town hall in the square at Masham was very busy with folk casting their votes and, with several having arrived by bus, there was quite a few of 
Swallow feeding young in bus shelter
them at the bus stop waiting for the bus home.  I had been aware of a pair of swallows circling the bus stop, and was fairly sure they would be nesting inside, and this was confirmed a few minutes later, when, despite there being people waiting inside and outside the shelter, one of the birds swooped over their heads to feed their young.  With so many people at the bus shelter we decided not to investigate the nest situation but made a note to have a look once the bus had been.  This was the day we had decided to spend at Jervaux Abbey just up the road, tempted by the reward of a cuppa and sticky bun in the café once the ruins had been visited.  The pictures in the brochure looked like there were areas of wildflower meadows or uncut big lawns, but times have changed since the photos were 
Neat grasslands Jervaux Abbey
Probably Common spotted orchid
taken and all around the site most of these areas now sported short ‘hair-cuts’.  Why?  One small area of flower-rich ‘meadow’ was an area of what looked like a small raise flowerbed, and in the centre we could see one of the heath-spotted orchids just coming into flower, possibly common spotted (Dactylorhiza fuchsia), but no orchids were listed in the dedicated Abbey plant list which was a bit poorly written and contained some basic ID errors.  In the same ‘meadow’ there was also flower spikes of hoary plantain (Plantago media) something I’d not seen before.  Hart’s tongue fern was growing from many walls but finding a couple of populations of brittle bladder fern appeared to be new to the list.  Making our way back to the car and café we were disappointed to find the café had closed early so our treat of chunks of Victoria sponge and cups of tea were scuppered.

Going off what looked like an interesting limey area on the map we ventured to an area near Carperby a couple of days later and in a circular walk found an ancient lime-kiln and lots of limestone outcrops.  This area is close to the army’s training range and the first surprise of the day was almost being buzzed by a couple of low flying jets.  Not to be outdone, a couple of Chinooks 
Rockrose and salad burnet
then flew by, returning later in the day and the final slow and low fly-past was by a couple of RAF C130 Hercules, allowed to fly as low as 250 feet from the ground.  The rocks produced more brittle bladder fern and the steeply sloping ground had lots of spring sedge and many hectares of rockrose a plant not listed on the BSBI database from that area.  We also made an outing to see the local breeding avocets at the Nosterfield Reserve but owing to very dry weather and low water table, we 
Nosterfield avocet
Bee orchid (a bit wet)
could only find a single breeding pair.  The highlight though was the bee orchid which we found in four different areas, a mega plant tick for both of us, and a plant not seen for many decades.  A small blue plant had us stumped – blue fleabane (Erigeron acer), but for sheer size and colour the musk thistle (Carduus nutans) claimed the prize for most showiest, and a plant we’d not knowingly seen before.  Throw in a few common twayblade orchids and despite the rain, not a bad day. 
The middle Sunday of our holiday was something completely different and when Janet said it involved 21 open gardens in a small village called Coxwold, I wasn’t too sure.  However, to see so many flower-filled gardens, hiding behind quite normal looking houses, was quite a surprise, and I 
Tea and cake in the rain in one of the brilliant gardens
had to take my hat off to the owners for putting on such an amazing display.  We both agreed a terraced garden about halfway round was the winner, but all were stunning.  Tea and cake in the village hall was also pretty good and, just to ensure there was something recorded in the diary, the lime gall (Contarinia tiliarum) was seen on several trees.  On the way to Coxwold we popped in to check out the Burton Leonard Lime Quarry Reserve run by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and realised this was a place worthy of a visit on another day.

Swaledale, over the moors from Askrigg is a place we had often talked about visiting, being an area visited several times to stay in Youth Hostels when out with the local CTC club many years ago.  The village of Muker was the initial aim but we decided our afternoon walk would be a little further along the Dale starting in Gunnerside.  The OS map shows this whole area criss-crossed with footpaths, old 
mine workings and those amazing field barns but with just a couple of hours available we decided to wander along the side of Gunnerside Gill.  This would be an amazing area to live in for a year or so just to see where all the paths led and what might be residing there.  More brittle bladder fern turned up but the highlight of the walk was Janet asking “is that the plant we saw at Fountains Abbey a couple of years ago?”  This was a question I could only answer by struggling up a steep, slippery slope, under a canopy of hazels, hanging on to the hazel poles as I bent down to check the plants, 3-4 
A typical toothwort plant, not the ones we saw
inches tall, pale white but well past their best by several weeks.  However, it was obvious that this was a group of flower-spikes of a plant parasitic on the roots of hazels called toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) a brilliant find, and with just one other record a few kilometres away near a place called Crackpot!  Carex pallescens (pale sedge) was the other nice find for the day.  Back in Gunnerside and the café was still open so just time for tea and cake before heading back over the tops.

With just a few days of the holiday left we headed back to the Burton Leonard lime quarries on a nice sunny day.  For some reason, I had found that this reserve was home to quite a rare sedge but one that is almost identical to the spring sedge which I had been seeing in other places.  This one is Carex ericetorum the rare spring sedge and looks very similar to the commoner spring sedge Carex caryophyllea.  Our visit to the Carperby area saw us in the right type of grazed, lime-rich hillside, but the sedges I checked there were all the common one so would this ex-quarry let me see the rarer 
Spring sedge (Carex caryophyllea)
Pyramidal orchid
one?  There are lots of good plants at this site but I thought it would be best to visit the area where the rare sedge had been recorded in the past but not since 2008.  It wasn’t to be despite checking many spring sedges and there has to be a chance that the area where it was last seen is less grazed now than in the past and the sedge has lost out to taller, more ‘aggressive’ plants.  The quarry though was home to lots of common twayblades and a reasonable population of pyramidal orchids along with burnet rose (a plant that might have caused the rare sedge to disappear) with quite a few of the roses sporting an orange fungus Phragmidium rosae-pimpinellifoliae (phew!).  As we wandered a man appeared with a butterfly net and, being keen to talk, let us know he was on the reserve to carry out a butterfly 
Burnet rose top and flower stem with Phragmidium fungus
transect!  I let him know about my own Loch Garten involvement with this scheme over many years – small world.  He also told us that a nearby reserve - Staveley Nature Reserve was worth a visit, noted for its birds, plants, butterflies and dragonflies, so we decided to spend the afternoon there.  We didn’t find any of the rarer orchids but did catch up with small skipper and brimstone butterflies, 
Not the most welcoming visitor hide
breeding common terns and common and blue-tailed damselflies, and generally had a pleasant walk.  The public accessible hide is the furthest one from the car park and away from the main water-bird activity area whereas the one with the best views is for members only and chains, locks and signs let you know that’s the case, not the best way in my eyes to encourage new members.

One of our most unusual finds came right at the end of our holiday following a walk from Middleham over the fields to the River Cover and back round via the Middleham gallops where the horses from the local racing stables are trained.  Lunch by the River Cover saw us dining on a limestone riverbank with the river flowing through a narrow channel which could be jumped with a bit of a run.  Unusual 
River Cover
Giant puffball, my GPS is 6" long
finds were a huge sweet chestnut tree, a detached, but whole giant puffball (Calvatia gigantean), wood melick grass (Melica uniflora) and a bit more brittle bladder fern.  The best find though came about purely by accident.  Whenever I see a ladybird I try and take a good photograph so that I can check the species via the UK Ladybird website.  As we left the river I saw an area that looked like it might have nests of the yellow meadow ant so I went to investigate.  Despite seeing possible nests of this ant in the past I’ve yet to see active ants, and that was the case again, but on the vegetation I saw a couple of ladybirds which I photographed, even though they looked like the common 7-spot ladybird.  However, they just would not stay still so I ended up taking several photos to ensure one 
The scarce 7-spot ladybird (Coccinella magnifica) the 4
white spots just visible on the underside
would have the right details.  I did think that the colour was a little more orange than red, but would check the photos once home.  Back at the house I was happy that the ladybird was the 7-spot and was checking a couple of other ladybird photos from the previous day to try and get the right species.  Having trouble with a possible harlequin ladybird I checked other websites for more options and on a German website the orangey colour of the 7-spot that I’d photographed seemed correct for the scarce 7-spot!  A bit more delving on the internet and I found that the feature needed to confirm that species is on the underside of the ladybird.  Having taken several photos, one of them did give a hint that the underside of my ladybird had the four white marks pushing me towards the scarce 7-spot.  Hmm.  I would have to go back to the site and have a proper look, provided I could find the ladybird again.  So, Janet headed off to the local shops and I headed back to Middleham and the River Cover.  
Race horses in nearby Middleham
Amazingly, when I got to the location I could see there were several ladybirds and, having forgotten to take a bit of blutac to hold the insect in place, upside-down, I tried several ways of trying to immobilise one but without any luck.  I then noticed one of the ladybirds running about on a thistle leaf and just occasionally, the underside was visible, so I took photo after photo (700 in total!) in the hope that one would confirm the four white spots.  Because there were several more ladybirds I thought it sensible to take a single specimen, just in case the photos didn’t work.  Out of all the photos, including nice ones of the top of the ladybird, 4 gave a reasonable view of the underside and I was quite happy that I was seeing the scarce 7-spot (Coccinella magnifica), a species which is associated with ant nests.  Once home, I let invertebrate expert Stephen see my photos and specimen 
Rustyback fern (Ceterach officinarum)
and he was happy not just with the white spots, but also by the shape of the ladybird, the rarer one having a much more domed appearance.  After all the excitement of the morning we spent our last afternoon visiting the Masham allotments and chatting with a couple of the folk tending their veg patches before taking a circular route back to the house.  Along the way, a wall along the side of a house had a big population of rustyback ferns, something I had been looking for on our last couple of holidays following my find on a railway bridge in Morayshire, a rare plant in our part of the world.  A1, A66, M6, M74 and the A9 saw us back home by mid-afternoon on the Saturday with just a day to get ready for my first visit to Raigmore for radiotherapy.  I also had to get organised for the annual count of orchids at the Flowerfield meadow.

On the Sunday, Janet had arranged to attend the Aviemore Craft Fair and once the tent was up and the stall set up I popped round to see the Flowerfield owners to explain what I planned to do, fitting in my counts around the Raigmore timetable once this was clear.  Jeremy warned me that some of the 
Frosted lesser butterfly orchid
orchids had been blackened by a frost on the morning of the 8th June, and a walk around the site showed that quite a few flower-spikes (lesser butterfly and fragrant orchids) had been affected.  The small whites seemed to have survived okay.  9am on the 19th June will be remembered well into the future as I met for the first time, the team in charge of the ‘linear accelerator’ in the radiotherapy section of Raigmore Hospital.  It was obvious that I was going to get to know the team quite well over the next few weeks and this was borne out by the people already in the system, sitting in the waiting area, and all on first name terms with the team.  A full bladder is needed before treatment so 
Zone 2 for radiotherapy!
a couple of cups of water would be needed each day about 20 minutes before treatment.  My time at the hospital was 30-40 minutes and the time under the machine was 5-10 minutes.  I arrived at Flowerfield about 1pm and started to walk the transects across the site, starting off with an area where fewer of the orchids grow.  A bonus on this first day was finding a single spike of common twayblade, a new orchid for the site.  I got up on the 20th to find the car covered in dew and with the thermometer reading just 20C at 6.30am, perhaps the temperature had been lower during the night?  
Lesser butterfly orchids top and annual totals table
The afternoon transects took me into the area where the population of northern marsh orchids is increasing and about 50 flowering spikes were counted.  This area also supports a good population of moonwort fern and around 70 were counted.  In the sunshine, the first six-spot burnet moths were on the wing.  An email also informed me that Jane and Jeremy had been contacted by an orchid expert who, having read my article about the site in the Journal of the Hardy Orchid Society (Vol 14, No. 2), wanted to visit the site to photograph the orchids at various stages of their growing phases, and he would be on site the next day.  I went straight to Flowerfield on my return from Raigmore and met Sean on site who informed me that he had found another orchid hybrid, a mix of heath spotted and fragrant orchid, and this he was able to show me (Dactylorhiza maculata x Gymnadenia conopsea = X Dactylodenia legrandiana).  During the course of my orchid count I found three more locations for the hybrid.  At the end of my first week of treatment I was feeling okay but a bit under-dressed for a 
The hybrid orchid
X Dactylodenia legrandiana
very windy and cold day and counting orchids left me a little chilled.  However, another unusual find was made – an enormous oil beetle (Meloe violaceus) which I assume would be a female, full of eggs, and looking for somewhere to create a few burrows in which to lay them.  This beetle relies on solitary mining bees to complete its life cycle, the newly hatched larvae must immediately find a bee and hitch a ride on its back, usually by climbing flower stems to wait for visiting bees.  The adult bee then carries the larvae back to its nest where they disembark and begin to feed on the bee’s eggs and 
The oil beetle (Meloe violaceus)
the store of pollen and nectar. The larvae develop in the bee burrow until they emerge as adult oil beetles ready to mate and start the whole cycle again.  Amazing.  Later that day Janet and myself went up to Nairn for a bowl of soup and walk on the beach, little did we know that this would be the last such venture until after my treatment was finished.  The lesser butterfly orchid count was finished the next day leaving just the small white orchids to count.  The cold morning of the 20th did seem to have had an impact and from no frosted flower spikes on my first visit, quite a few of the small whites were now brown or bent over.  The small white orchids grow, mainly, in a hollow section of the field and this might have been prone to a ground frost, acting as a frost hollow.  Over a couple of hours the count was complete and as was expected, the count of both species was down on 2016.  There is no rest for the wicked so they say and later that day I was on the road again.  I had been 
One-flowered wintergreens (Moneses uniflora)
hearing good things about the one-flowered wintergreens near Grantown where I had also been carrying out counts for the last few years.  A lack of grazing in recent years had seen the number of flowers dwindle to almost single figures but, as part of the Cairngorms National Park Rare Plants Project, a machine had been brought on to the site to remove the dense stands of rhododendron which were also threatening the plants future.  Amazingly, it was within these ‘trashed’ sites that the wintergreen had started to appear possibly having been held in check under the dense rhododendron canopy.  Whatever, I was absolutely taken aback by the number of new leafy rosettes popping up and also quite a few with the characteristic white, drooping flowerheads.  I would have to return to 
Orchid beetles (Dascillus cervinus)
explore further, but first there were two other lesser butterfly sites to count.  The first of the Tulloch sites was a bit disappointing and only 12 plants were found (18 in 2016) and once again no small white orchids were seen.  The second site was even worse, possibly because the dense vegetation is now starting to have a big effect and only 4 lesser butterflys were found (22 in 2016).  One bonus though was a big count of orchid beetles (Dascillus cervinus).  At the top of a flower stem I found 3, a pair mating with probably another male in attendance but in the surrounding vegetation were another 10 beetles, possible more males attracted by the scent of a female in mating mode.

It was towards the end of week two of treatment that my body suffered a sudden change, the note in my diary saying “the trots have started!”  This was something I had been warned was likely to happen and it just meant that for all outings thereafter I carried a loo roll in my rucksack along with a clean pair of undies – just in case.  On the last day of June I made a return visit to have a proper look at the one-flowered wintergreens, the ones appearing in the ex-rhododendron areas but also to check out my previously known sites in the surrounding woodland.  The first find though was of the green 
The 'fungus' as found top photo.
The 'fungus' cap was actually on the inside of the skin!
shield-moss, with two new locations producing 12 capsules (6+6).  In the surrounding woodland I was pleasantly surprised to find a few wintergreens in eight locations with the number of flowers ranging from 1 to 7.  The strangest find though was linked to a dead hedgehog.  When I found the well-rotted corpse I was fairly convinced that the spines sticking up from the body were covered with a distinct fungus, so photos were taken along with a sample to check.  Once home I put one of the mushroom shapes from the tip of a spine on a glass slide to check under the microscope but it was so hard the glass cover-slip broke.  I emailed Brian at Kew to see if he knew of any spine related fungi but received a negative reply.  I checked my sample a little more carefully and realised that the ‘mushroom’ shape was on the spines but from under the hedgehog’s skin, and wasn’t a fungus at all but part of the natural make-up of the spines!  You live and learn but do sometimes find something unusual.

Enjoy the read

Stewart and Janet

British Shieldbugs
Oak apple gall
Burton Leonard Lime Quarries
Rare spring sedge Carex ericetorum
Staveley Nature Reserve
UK Ladybirds
German ladybird website
The Hardy Orchid Society
Oil Beetles
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
NBN Atlas
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
Mum pine marten and two youngsters
Mandarin with young River Ure Masham 
The Yorkshire Dales National Park puts our local
Cairngorms National Park to shame with lots of flowery meadows and
no major housing developments 

Photos © Stewart Taylor