Yellow Rattle

yellow rattle69°F, 20°C, 10.25 a.m.: At the lower end of the walled garden at Nostell Priory there are two squares of wild flower meadow. Amongst the grasses, buttercups and dog daisies there are small drifts of yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, a plant that is semi-parasitic on the roots of grasses.

Despite a superficial resemblance, it isn’t related to yellow archangel, which I photographed in Stoneycliffe Woods at the beginning of the month: yellow archangel is a relative of the dead-nettles, one of the Lamiacea (mint) family, while yellow flyrattle is a member of the Scrophulariaceae (figwort) family, related to louseworts, cow-wheats, speedwells and foxglove.

Male Fern

male fernmale fern stemA tall shuttlecock tuft of fronds of male fern, Dryopteris filix-mas, grows by the woodland path near the Menagerie. It has pale brown scales on its stems, which helps distinguish it from another tufted fern, the broad-buckler, which has a dark stripe running down the centre of each scale. The broad-buckler doesn’t form such a robust looking shuttlecock of fronds.


Curry Plant


curry plantThe curry plant growing in the stone trough in the courtyard of the stable block at Nostell Priory is just about to come into flower. As its name suggests, it gives off a convincing aroma of curry if you brush against it or rub its leaves. If this is designed to deter insects, it isn’t working in the case of these black aphids that are sap-sucking along its stems.

aphidsant and aphidSurplus sap excreted by the aphids is collected by ants, which have been observed to defend and sometimes to move the aphids, like farmers herding cattle. I spotted just one ant in the macro photographs that I took.


Spittle Bug

cuckoo spitAlso sap-sucking, a spittle bug. The nymph of the spittle bug produces a protective covering of ‘cuckoo spit’ by blowing bubbles in the surplus sap that it excretes.

Song Thrush

song thrushsong thrushThe song thrushes are now running a shuttle service feeding their young in the beech hedge behind the wheelie bins in our front garden. While one parent watches warily with a beak-full of food before flying down to the back of hedge the other is foraging for the next feed in the back garden, dealing with a small slug on the patio, leaving a sticky mess on the paving slab.

kestrelThe meadow, no longer grazed by a pony, is now a regular hunting ground for a kestrel, which hovers at forty or fifty feet and occasionally plunges down among the grasses.




Upper lake, Nostell Priory: The seed capsules of bladdernut contain hard seeds that have been used as beads. Bladdernut, Staphylea pinnata, is a deciduous shrub or small tree, native to central and southern Europe and Turkey. It was introduced to Britain in the 16th century.

Bumble bees

Red-tailed bumble bee

Red-tailed bumble bee

bumble beeCatmint and geraniums are attracting bumble bees in the walled garden at Nostell Priory.

Town Hall Pigeons

town pigeonpigeon9.20 a.m., Market Place, Ossett, 52°F, 13°C: A town pigeon perches on the antenna on the town hall roof then flies off in a stiff winged display flight. A stubble of rush-like spikes prevents these feral pigeons, descendants of the rock dove, from using sills, mouldings and cupolas as cliff ledges but the strings of Christmas lights still festooned across the facade provide an alternative perch. One has found a niche on a jutting corner.

elder on town hall roofpigeonIt’s not much more than a year since the building was given a major restoration but already two elders have sprouted and are blossoming in crevices in the stonework.

A black-headed gulls flies over and a swift soars around hawking for insects.

Summer’s Green

meadowThe fresh greens of spring are now over and trees have filled out with lush deep green foliage. Already I have to lean over as I pass the car in the drive because the rowan has put out so many soft ferny sprays of leaf.

Strings of yellow keys – pairs of ‘helicopter’ seeds – are hanging from the sycamores.

A song thrush is taking food to a nest hidden in the beech hedge at the front of the house. A month or so ago, I watched them taking nesting material into the leylandii hedge next door but when the beech came into a leaf a week or two later they started nest-building there instead.

Bilberry Wood

bilberry wood

Rushes and common cotton-grass growing amongst the bilberries at the edge of the wood.

Milkwort, growing by a small tributary stream running into Oughtershaw Beck.

Milkwort, growing by a small tributary stream running into Oughtershaw Beck.

The hummocky ground layer of Bilberry Wood is carpeted, as its name suggests, with bilberry which is dripping with globular pink flowers, a few of which are beginning to set berries. It has flourished in the years since the wood was fenced off to prevent sheep grazing here.

Recently red squirrels have moved into the wood. They have been caught on camera attracted to feeding boxes (see link below).

green-veined whiteBumble bees are busy in the wood but on the strips of acid grassland around it small heath butterflies are the most conspicuous insects, flitting about over damp sedgey ground pockmarked with the hoof-prints of sheep and cattle. Two green-veined whites have paired up and come to rest among the grasses, giving us a chance to take some close-up macro shots.

red damselflies

In a calm section of Oughtershaw beck, large red damselflies, Pyrrhosoma nymphula, are laying their eggs, perching on a leaf of pondweed, Potamogeton.

Link: Red Squirrels in Bilberry Wood

Red squirrels at a nut feeder in Bilberry Wood, Nethergill.


Nethergill Farm, Langstrothdale

Nethergill Farm, Langstrothdale, yesterday morning as the sun failed to clear the low cloud.

Nethergill Farm, 1.10 p.m.: Cumulus clouds are towering over Langstrothdale and the thunderstorms that the forecast suggested were a possibility would now be welcome as even here in the shade of the old barn the temperature is climbing into the high seventies Fahrenheit, 25 C.

A cuckoo is calling on the far side of the valley. Meadow pipits are the birds we see most often on the road across the moor to Hawes, so it will have plenty of nesting pairs in its territory.

The farm’s resident blackbird sings from the ash tree, which is covered in sprays of blossom, which is now going over, and freshly sprouted bright green fronds of leaves.

Goldfinches chatter excitedly in its canopy. A gentle breeze sighs as it passes across the valley ahead of the gathering cloud but does nothing to freshen the atmosphere.

A pheasant explodes in a brief grockle of indignation, flies murmur, a cockerel crows: a strangulated wail. The hens here at Nethergill farm ‘are still learning’ so Fiona added an extra egg to the small but deep yellow yoked half dozen that she gave us in our welcome pack for our self-catering apartment, the Hay Mew. Also included, slices of her homemade flapjack which has been enticing Dales Way walkers to take a break here for the last five years.


buzzard2.45 p.m., Bilberry Wood, Langstrothdale: We could hear a buzzard mewing but couldn’t spot one circling or perching in the pines on the far side of the beck; it was on the moorland edge on the slope beyond, perching on a fence-post. It was still there and still calling when we walked back, half an hour later.

starling3 p.m.: Starlings nest beneath the roof tiles at Swarthghyll Farm, Langstrothdale. House martin and swallow fly in at the barn window below.

green-veined white3.20 p.m.: A green-veined white is sunning itself on a bank by the track across the moor, after a brief chase with a rival. It has fine dark veins on its upper wings but lacks the spots and borders that you see on many white butterflies (including most green-veined whites). A brief glimpse of the veins of its underwing helps confirm that it really is a green-veined.

pied wagtail5 p.m. riverside hide, Nethergill Farm: A pied wagtail feeds amongst the rocks on the beck, which is running low. It flies vertically to snap an insect in mid-air, then switches its attention to the beck-side pasture, darting to pick up insects from the clumps of rushes.


Oughtershaw BecksandpipersEvery time we drive over the cattle grid, a sandpiper pipes at us in obvious annoyance and arcs around in an ostentatiously level flight, flashing its wing-stripes. It’s on sentry duty again this afternoon as we walk down the track. It perches on a fence post to pipe at us until we leave its marshy patch but a little further along a pair of sandpipers fly up from the rushes alongside Oughtershaw Beck.

We find a spot downstream where we can sit at the beck-side, undisturbed by waders. The beck, which is rather low at present, plunges over a bed of limestone. The blocks and cracks remind me of the clints and grykes of the limestone pavement at Malham Cove.

Oughtershaw BeckWhen I’m drawing a subject like this which is almost abstract with its interlocked, repetitive shapes, I keep finding distinctive features to act as landmarks as I map out the adjacent sections of the formation, briefly giving them names so that I can plot a point as “level with ‘The Brow'” or “directly below ‘The Triangle'”.

I’m wishing that I had a length of string so that I could strap my spiral bound sketchbook around my neck. I really wouldn’t like it to drop in the beck.

As I look down I notice water avens growing from the turf that projects out over the water. Here, probably somewhat beyond easy reach for browsing sheep, there are probably half a dozen species within a square foot, including lady’s mantle, birdsfoot trefoil, plantain and a sedge.

Redstart and Redpoll

redstart6 p.m.: perching on a tree guard by the edge of the birch wood alongside Oughtershaw Beck, a male redstart sits preening. It occasionally darts up for insects.

redpollOnce again siskins outnumber other birds at the feeders. A more unusual visitor is a redpoll. It isn’t much bigger than the siskins and is considerably smaller than the occasional goldfinches and chaffinches which fly in to feed.

Tawny Owlet

tawny owl chick

owletThere’s a single tawny owl chick sitting in the morning sun perching on the lower section of the barn door. The owls have nested under the roof beam in the barn, stuffing sticks into the end of a piece of sacking that had been draped beneath.

The resident blackbird scolds it. This is the farmyard’s resident blackbird that, Fiona tells us, has been angry ever since it arrived.

Dales Birds

courtyardlittle owl1.45 p.m.: Getting myself in holiday mood, I sketch the view from the Courtyard Brasserie, near Settle, looking west over the grassy embankment of the Skipton/Settle railway. Swallows are nesting under the end of the roof on the gable end of the barn, perching and preening on the lines of bunting hanging over the courtyard.

2.30 p.m.: A little owl perches on a roadside fence post, in Horton in Ribblesdale.

siskins5.30 p.m., Nethergill Farm, Langstrothdale: With their characteristic single-mindedness, siskins are feeding on niger seed at the beck-side hide. The males are in such glowingly green plumage that they look as if they’ve been freshly painted.

A curlew probes the turf amongst the rushes by a bend in the beck.


Stoneycliffe Wood

hawthornThere’s an arch of hawthorn blossom over the path at the entrance to Stoneycliffe Wood Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve. Silver birch and oak are in fresh foliage ; evening sunlight dapples the path.

It’s been cool all day then at four the sun came out and it’s turned into a glorious summer evening.

Stoneycliffe Woods YWT nature reserve.

Stoneycliffe Woods YWT nature reserve.

wild garlicAs we walk down into the wood there’s a waft of wild garlic ; some of the leaves are starting to turn yellow and shrivel but some plants are still in flower.

wood avensAnother path side plant, wood avens, also known as Herb Bennet, grows alongside. It’s currently in yellow flower but will later have clusters of hooked seeds which can hitch a ride on a passing dog to be transported along the network of paths through the woods.

Tree canopy: sessile oak.

Tree canopy: sessile oak.

yellow archangelherb robertThere’s a lot of Herb Robert too: it’s hooked cranesbill seeds are transported in a similar way. The limestone chippings used in the path provide it with a suitable habitat as it’s a plant that tends to avoid acid soils.

There are a few patches of yellow archangel at the top end of the wood, a plant that is taken as an indicator of ancient woodland.

Song thrushes are calling in alarm or more probably in a dispute over territory.