Sunday, 30 May 2010

I Like Lichen

I have always found lichen to be interesting although I have never spent much time finding out about them, so I was pleased to find that lichens were the subject of the first activity of the Open University short course that I am doing. There are many interesting facts but here are a couple:
  • Although looking like one organism, lichen is made up of two interdependent organisms. The main part is a fungus and within the fungus there is either photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria. The fungus protects and stops the algae drying out while absorbing the products of the algae's photosynthesis.
  • In 2005 the European Space Agency exposed 2 different types of lichen to open space for 15 days and despite being exposed to the vacuum of space, cosmic radiation, full spectrum uv light and intense temperatures, the lichens survived and on return to earth were still able to photosynthesise.

In my garden we have a lot of trouble with a vast amount of lichen colonising on our apple tree. I have yet to find out if the lichen are causing branches to die off or if a dying branch just provides a more attractive habitat for the lichen but as you can see from this photo, some branches are covered in it and not looking too healthy.

While I have been wandering around my garden looking for different types of lichen I have also come across some bugs which I haven't seen before. The first was a Roesel's Bush-cricket but unfortunately he hopped off before I could take his photograph. The second bug, which was crawling around the cornflowers, was more obliging (just) and thanks to the Natural History Museum's bug forum, I have found out it is a Agapanthia Villosoviridescens. Apparently the larvae live in the storks of thistles so no doubt another benefit of adjoining a field of weeds that like to spread their seeds and other bits into our garden (one has to try and find positives:-) Anyway, rather a cute beetle with very striking antennae.

Besides searching for lichen, my husband and I have been busy cutting down some of the Hawthorn which is re-growing in the pony sssi area, as it is reducing the grazing area and shading out some of the wildflowers. Although it is a very scratchy job it is also enjoyable as the ponies come over to keep an eye on us and investigate our belongings...Rufus even managed to pick up my water bottle and give it a good shake...wish I had my camera ready as it looked very funny. There is also plenty of interesting wildlife like a Grizzled Skipper, loads of Twayblade and this newly emerged Man Orchid although this picture doesn't really show it properly.

There were also a few interesting passers by who stopped for a chat. One person was a riding instructor that taught me to ride when I was about 9 yrs old and another was an incredibly knowledgeable reptile expert. He was very interested to know where I had seen the common lizard last week and logged it in his GPS. He also told be about the best places for putting down refuges for the reptiles and said he will drop some off for us, along with some more information on reptiles. He was the sort of chap that one could learn so much from and it was such a pleasure to meet him.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Sunny Sunday

At this time of the year I just want to be constantly walking around the countryside, as everyday seems to bring something new, especially when the weather is warm and sunny.

In the SSSI land grazed by the ponies, over the last few days, I have seen three slow worms and a cute common lizard that was sun bathing on a choice piece of fairly fresh horse's dung..mmm..lovely and warm:-) Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me.

Today, as the weather was so warm, I decided to forget the usual Sunday gardening torture and go for a long walk, checking out some of the fields around us. There were masses of moths and butterflies. I rather liked this White Ermine moth and thought it looked quite trendy sporting its musical notes on its back...

Another butterfly that caught my eye was this beautiful Green Hairstreak. The photo doesn't do it justice as the emerald green of its wings shone amazingly as it flew around. It's the first time I have seen one of these around here.

In the area of SSSI land nearest to us, that has been rather mashed up by heavy machinery clearing the scrub, I was pleased to see some Birdsfoot-trefoil making an appearance again as the whole area used to be covered in it. It shows things are beginning to recover so hopefully there will be more Orchids this year (still no sign of the lizards though).

Another flower that I rather like that is growing in lots of places on the ground disturbed by the heavy machinery is the Scarlet Pimpernel, although very common I think it is so pretty.

Besides my long enjoyable walk, I have managed to fit in some other useful things today. I have cleaned the filters on the fish ponds and thinned out the pond weed, all the while being watched by the beady eyes of several frogs. I have also put together a rose arch which is currently on the living room floor waiting for a strong man to help me lift it outside. There were too many red ants wanting a nibble of my ankles to build it outside. I think we are gradually being taken over by red ants but I don't like killing them so I just try to avoid them, although, every time I go out, they seem to come running over to me as fast as their little legs will carry them...I can almost hear them shouting, "Hooray it's dinner!" :-)

Monday, 17 May 2010

Ginger's Op.

In my post dated 30th April I wrote about Ginger guinea pig needing an expensive operation to remove a bladder stone. Today was operation day but although the stone is still showing up on x-rays, when the vet opened Ginger up, she was unable to locate it, so he's been through all that trauma for nothing. Tomorrow pictures of the x-rays (£800 worth!) are being sent to a specialist to see if he can say where the stone is (thankfully we are not being charged for all these additional cost). Even if the specialist can locate it more accurately I am not sure it is fair to put Ginger through yet another operation, although he doesn't seem too bad after this one, just very hungry. I really don't know what to do for the best.

As I am writing this I am half watching a fox that is acting very strangely... one minute it is at the top of the field but the next time I look up it is at the bottom, then it is back up at the top again and so on. Very odd. I think I will forgo my game of chess with the computer and watch it for a while through the binoculars.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Painful Pastime

When looking at other bloggers descriptions and photos of their beautiful gardens they conjure up images of warm sunny Sundays pottering in the garden, pulling out a little weed here and another there, whilst enjoying a peace and quiet only broken by birdsong. If only that is what it was like in my garden.

I love my garden...when I don't need to do anything in it, but, as we adjoin a field that has been 'set aside' for at least the last ten years, every weed growing out there also spreads into our garden and it ends up as a battle against weeds (odd how the pretty wildflowers that grow in the field never end up in our garden).

Anyway, as soon as I step outside, firstly the sun goes in, then there is usually a mass evacuation of aeroplanes from the airport flying overhead, meanwhile all the neighbours start their lawn mowers and strimmers and every child in the locality will find something to cry about. Maybe they have been stung by one of the extra large stinging nettles that seem to grow in our area and constantly manage to generate a sting that penetrates even my extra thick gardening gloves or maybe they too have been attacked by the abundance of cleavers that wrap themselves around ones limbs leaving a horrible itchy rash or were they attacked by the dastardly vicious red ants that lurk under every flower pot just waiting for a leg to run up before they start biting their victim with gusto. Gardening is a painful business.

I wish all weeds were like Forget-me-nots..up they come every year, flower beautifully, are easy to pull up when they have finished flowering and without having to do anything more, up they come the following year just as beautiful and they do not inflict any pain or injury. That's the sort of plant I like:-)

There are some good things about gardening though. I like the way my friendly Robin follows me around and puts his head on one side when I mumble curses after a weed has inflicted another dose of pain and I like discovering Slow Worms hiding in sunny parts of the garden soaking up the warmth and I actually rather like snails as long as they keep away from my vegetables and Sweet peas.

I also like finding signs that the foxes and badgers are still visiting the garden, although, today I found a very gone off hens egg that some creature had left in the flower bed. Unfortunately I stuck my trowel in it before I realized what it was so just to add to my painful Sunday gardening experience, the rest of the time was spent trying not to breathe the very smelly odour that emanated from the egg..even the Robin found it too much and flew away:-)

Saturday, 8 May 2010

It's Just As Well..

It is just as well that so many baby fish survived the harsh winter in our ponds because this Heron has become a frequent visitor to a nearby tree and I suspect has already had a few 'fishy take-aways'......

It is also just as well that since Christmas I have been dosing up on vitamins, cutting down on fats and generally trying to get fitter as during some volunteer work with the Old Surrey Downs Project on Thursday and Friday, I twice found myself running across a field in the process of rounding up sheep. Considering I haven't run anywhere (not even for the bus) for many years, I was rather pleased with myself and found it quite liberating...a bit like being a child again. I now have this ridiculous urge to run around in the field behind us, a bit Julie Andrews like in the opening scene of the Sound of's lucky for the neighbours I can't sing:-))

It's also just as well that the ponies don't seem to like eating Orchid leaves as plenty are now coming up in their field, especially Common Spotted and Twayblades. I can't wait for the flowering season to start. The ponies have done a really good job with their conservation grazing although there is a lot of Hawthorn that is growing up again. I wonder if this will be cut down or whether they will put some other type of grazing animal in, like goats, that may eat more of it than the ponies.

And lastly, it's just as well we have a new computer as my legs ache after all that running around after sheep, so I can now have a lazy day trying to beat the computer at chess:-)