Abbey Meadows

Abbey Meadows

Friday, 30 May 2008

The snook

I have known for some time where Coralroot orchid grows but over the years I haven't been able to look for it at the right time of year. I went up to Holy island today in the hope of seeing this plant. I roughly knew where a plant had been found but when you are on your own these dune slacks are enormous and you don't know where to start. After almost giving up after about half an hour I found one, second picture above. These are tiny plants ; only a few centimetres high. The snook is my favourite part of Holy island and I didn't go anywhere else today. It is a great expanse of dune system that holds an amazing amount of flora. There were many orchids in flower such as Northern marsh and Early purple orchids. The place is covered with pirri pirri bur plus at least a dozen species of rush and sedge. Also in flower is Common butterwort growing among the Quaking grass (top). The only bird of note was a Pied flycatcher but when I was looking through the bushes for migrants I came across another Coralroot orchid. This one was more attractive with the flowers fully open (bottom two pics). You could even see the coral like base of the second plant but unable to photo this as it would mean disturbing some of the surrounding vegetation. A very satisfying afternoon.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Druridge dunes

No sign of any rare migrants this evening at Druridge. A Spotted flycatcher being the only non-resident in the bushes at Hadston links. Plenty of plants in flower at the moment. I have posted pictures of Purple milk vetch, Bloody cranesbill, Northern marsh orchid and Thread leaved water crowfoot.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Harwood forest

After working over the weekend it was nice to have a bank holiday off for a change. The weather was lovely and sunny but the north easterly wind made it feel more like early February than late May. I resisted a trip along the coast chiefly to avoid the bank holiday traffic as most of the A1 is single carriageway and the locations I like to visit will still be there on a normal day off. I decided to head 10 miles inland to Harwood forest. It has always been a great haunt of mine. I hope to have many posts from this lovely forest. Today was a family affair so the wildlife took something of a back seat. We enjoyed a nice picnic and the only people we encountered were two ladies on hoseback. Still plenty to see. I only saw one species of butterfly; Orange tip but there were dozens of them enjoying the warmth of the sheltered rides. On the bird front I saw 2 crossbills, 2 Buzzards and a Raven. I also saw a new plant; Sand spurrey, it is a plant of gravelly river banks but in recent years it can be found on forest tracks presumably the seeds spreading by materials brought into the forest to make roads. I have included pictures of a Roe deer which we managed to get close to despite the noise we were making, Cottongrass and Winter's gibbet.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Woodland rambles

Over the past couple of days after work I have spent a bit of time in the woods around Morpeth. In Chapel woods there are numerous Spotted flycatchers and young Treecreepers clinging on to low branches waiting to be fed. I also saw a day flying Tawny owl in here on wednesday. Many woodland flowers out including Wood speedwell, Bugle and Bitter vetchling. I photographed the above Comma in Chapel woods sitting on Butterbur leaves. It doesn't seem that long ago when I 'twitched' my first Comma at Widdrington. They are common in the county now. I have also included another picture of solomons seal this time in the borough woods and growing nearby a Scottish and Northern England speciality Wood cranesbill. The picture of Common twayblade was also taken in Borough woods, this is the only time I have seen this plant away from the dunes at Druridge bay even though it is found in woods and grassy places in most parts of the county. The flowers are not fully open yet. The bottom picture is my better half and Bennyboy at Mitford castle.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Fungi in the meadows

Over the past couple of days I have come across some interesting fungi. The best one is probably chicken of the woods or sulphur polypore, above centre. This is a young specimen as they age they become more clustered and tiered. I found this growing in Athey's dene. The fungi on the bottom picture is I believe Ganoderma applanatum; Artists bracket growing along the Mitford road. The top picture is Sulphur tuft an attractive species growing along the Wanny line at Morpeth common.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Longwitton Dene

The river Hart is one of the most attractive rivers that flow into the Wansbeck. The most accessible spot is Longwitton dene. When I first came here over 25 years ago Redstarts and pied flycatchers were breeding birds here utilising the nest boxes put up to attract them. These birds have moved to the uplands and the only birds I saw were 3 Spotted flycatchers feeding above the river. I also saw Red squirrel but this is a fine place for plants. Herb paris grows here but the most interesting place is an old brick wall which is full of flowers and ferns. I have posted pictures of Green alkanet and Greater celandine but many plants were in flower including Solomons seal

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Chapel woods

The woods to the east of Morpeth continue to flank the Wansbeck for over four miles to Sheepwash. The most interesting stretch is between Morpeth and Bothal. These are known as the chapel woods. The river bends sharply eastwards here and the valley sides are very steep. It is a tranquil place. Much of the exposed sandstone has tumbled into the river giving it a rocky bed, it is a good place to see Dippers and Goosanders. This is one of the few places where Lily of the valley grows as a native plant but I couldn't see any today but I did see Solomon's seal which does grow as a native here. I also found a garden escape called Fringecups which is an attractive plant that didn't look out of place beside the river. The other pictures above include Wood sedge and on the way home I came across Dryad's saddle growing on dead logs; time to get your pen knife out ipin as this is apparently tasty fungi!

I was reading an article in British wildlife magazine a couple of years ago that the river Wansbeck is the most important breeding grounds for the White-footed crayfish in the whole of Europe. The crayfish is a relative of the Lobster, they are common here and easy to see.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Local Hero

William Turner was born in Morpeth in 1508. He was educated in the Chantry in Morpeth and went on to study physic and philosophy at Pembroke college, Cambridge. After graduation he became a clergyman, doctor and a botanist, leading an eventful life during the reign of the tudor monarchs. Turner was the first person to classify and record descriptions and illustrations of British plants, which he then linked to old Greek texts about the medicinal uses of herbs, so the right plants would be used for treatments. He gave English names that we still use today to around 300 plant species such as daffodil, bluebell, daisy, foxglove, heather, fennel and pansy. Turner preferred to write in English rather than the more common Latin, so fellow doctors and apothecaries could understand what was written. During his life, Turner was doctor to Lord Somerset at Syon house in the midst of the Royals, an MP in Wiltshire, Dean of Wells cathedral in Somerset, ordained as a priest, as well as writing books on birds, fish, the famous herbal in three parts, other books on plants, religeous essays etc. Turner lived through the reign of four Tudor monarchs until he died in 1568.

When I was at school we were taught about the life of Turner and I am pleased to learn that my own children are also familiar with this locally born botanist. I was in Turner house at Morpeth high school but what he is most famous for to me is his discovery of many plants new to science at the time. My favourite plant is Herb paris which he found in Cottingwood. 'Libardbayne or one a wodde besyde Morpeth called Cottingwood' Turner(1548) from Swan (1993). This was the first record for Britain and amazingly the above pictures were taken from the very spot where it was first discovered. It has a very scattered distribution in the county but I came across it at Longwitton dene on the river Hart. Other pictures above are of the excellent Turner garden in Morpeth; well worth a wander through and the Chantry which used to be a pop factory when I was at school but these days houses a craft centre, the tourist information centre and Englands only bagpipe museum where I saw the scottish folk duo Sileas! I have included a picture of Herb paris with five leaves despite its Latin name quadrifolia.
I have also included Pendulous Sedge with the Cotting burn in the background.

Sunday, 11 May 2008


News of a Lesser Yellowlegs first at Druridge then at Hauxley came too late in the day yesterday. As today was another working day I decided to drive straight to Hauxley at first light this morning. A Barn owl was hunting over farmland at Chibburn on the way up. As expected no sign of the Yellowlegs; the water levels are so high there is no way it would be able to feed anywhere. The only birds of note were a Long tailed duck, two Little gulls and two Wheatears. Then the fog came in. I decided it was time to make my way south to East chevington. Nothing on the bird front initially though there were two singing Reed warblers on the North pool and nothing new in the way of plants in the dunes apart from carpets of Cowslips. It will be a couple of weeks before the Orchids begin to appear. On my way back to the car a Hobby flew south over the dunes. Although you hear of frequent records you just don't see enough of them around here. I finished the morning at Druridge pools. The Lesser Yellowlegs was feeding in front of the demolished hide together with a fine summer plumaged Spotted redshank. I took some record digiscope shots but I will keep them off post for now as I am sure some excellent pictures will appear on someones blog soon. Nice morning but time for work!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

The Abbey and the Meadows

I thought I would add a little local interest on this post. I live in Abbey meadows but I am only a couple of minutes walk from the remains of Newminster abbey and the wet meadows that surround it. The abbey was a cistertian abbey. It was founded by Ranulph De Merley, the Lord of Morpeth in 1137. It was burnt down a year later by Scottish raiders. St Robert of Newminster was appointed the first Abbot of the abbey. The lands belonging to the abbey stretched right up to the Scottish borders leaving it vulnerable to many Scottish raids during the bloody border wars. The abbey was a substantial building about the same size of Fountains abbey in North Yorkshire. The abbey closed after the wave of disolution in 1537. The property was then acquired by the Grey family (of Earl Grey tea fame) but they used the stones to build their own properties. I have posted a few pictures of the ruins, I found dozens of St Georges mushrooms growing with Primroses among the mossy stones. The picture of the meadows hides a substantial amount of standing water. There are thousands of Cuckoo flowers in the meadows but the dominant plant is Great pond sedge. The remains of the wall behind the fingerpost was built with stone from the abbey as there is a lot of the red sandstone among the ruins of the abbey. The house is called Abbotswood and the original part of the house was built with stone plundered from the abbey.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Borough woods

As I have been working over the bank holiday there is still no excuse to find a bit of time to spend in the meadows with all this woodland on the doorstep. Yesterday evening I walked Bennyboy through Athey's dean. Not much in the way of migrants with only one Williow warbler singing but a Garden warbler singing at the woodland edge was nice to hear. Plenty of plants to see as there seems to be a surge of plants trying to compete to find the right spot as the leaves begin to unfurl on the trees, soon the amount of light will be restricted on the woodland floor. In flower was Spignel, Wood sorrel, Bluebell, Cuckoo flower and I came across some more Moschatel growing at the woodland edge. This evening I walked through the Borough woods that flank the Wansbeck river. The woodland floor is completely carpeted with Ransomes, Wood anemone, Lesser celandine and Dogs mercury. None of these flowers are showing any signs of fading just yet. Above is the majestic flower of Lords and ladies (arum maculatum). The Wansbeck and the Tyne valleys are the best places to see these plants where they grow in their tens and thousands. They are scattered elsewhere in the county but mysteriously they are absent from the river Coquet. The fungi Mycena inclinata, commonly called Clustered bonnet was growing on a mossy stump next to the river. The leaves in the forground are Ransomes.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Flowers in the rain

After work I went for a walk around Scots Gill woods. The rain was pouring down but what a difference a couple of weeks make with many woodland plants coming into flower. I have posted pictures of Wood Stitchwort and Sweet cicely. As well as these I came across wood Avens, Ground Ivy, Marsh marigold, Barren Strawberry and Pendulous Sedge all in flower. The wood smells great at the moment with the pungent Ransomes. This is still in flower with Wood anemone, Bluebell and Lesser cellandine adding a welcome splash of colour to the woodland floor.