American widgeon and little ringed plover

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This Saturday was forecast as heavy winds and rain showers. When we awoke it was raining heavily the water running down the window panes and the sky a uniform grey.

We celebrated the beginning of our holiday with a cup of tea in bed. Cora came to join us and insisted on lying on top of your father thus rendering him unable to move. After doing some housework we both went to the library me to write and him to work on his laptop. By the time we left the weather was bright if blustery sunshine. We called at Birds for buns and a cake, and, after a salad lunch,decided to venture to Holme Pierrepont to look for the American Widgeon on the A52 pit.  Leaving the house David saw a buff tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris. I thought I saw a common carder bee Bombus pascorum on the rosemary plant, however it flew off before I could get a definitive view. Your father alledges it is too early for this species and claims it was probably the gloriously named hairy footed flower bee. We pulled up on the verge and set up telescopes we were the only birders there. Last time we were there, a pair of long tailed tits were building a nest, now the nest is finished, a carefully constructed ball of moss and lichen. It is wonderfully camouflaged to look like trapped debris in the fork of a bush, unless you look closer, when the small aperture at the top marks it out as a nest.

The main pond was quite turbulent; consequently most of the water birds were in the calmer bay. Two little egrets were beside the bank on the opposite shore.  A ruff was busy searching the grass for invertebrates. On the water great crested grebes, all now in summer plumage, swam and dived for fish, whilst moorhens and coots chugged up and down carrying trails of weeds in their bills. Tufted ducks in the centre of the pond had their crests blown forward over their heads or blown vertical, giving them a punk appearance.

On the grass nearly a hundred widgeon were grazing. We commenced scanning them for the alien widgeon. This was not as easy as it sounds. Widgeon feed with their heads down in the grass and their bottoms in the air and this flock were feeding for dear life. Presumably their aim was to fatten up ready for the flight north to the breeding grounds. The distinguishing feature of the American Widgeon is a white blaze down the centre of the forehead instead of a cream patch and a dark greenish patch on the side of its head. The flank is a slightly different colour being more russet and less plum that the other wigeon but the colour discernment is somewhat subjective. The white and black delineation before the tail is very pronounced. However yet again widgeon possess the same characteristic, so it is not that obvious amongst a hundred other birds. These characteristics are hard to discern when all you can see of the bird is its bottom in the air. Added to these problems widgeon don’t exactly feed in a straight line but rather a clump and they tend to move to a better looking bit of grass constantly.

Every so often, for no discernable reason whatever, they have a tendency to take off en masse and land on the water. Here they undertake a little feather maintenance and have a drink, before making their way to the shore to clamber out in a rather ungainly fashion, their short legs are not designed for clambering up muddy banks. I sympathise having the same problem, however I digress.

 

To summarise we were looking for a slightly different widgeon amongst a group of a hundred or so other nearly identical birds all waddling about and feeding with their bottoms in the air, whilst the characteristics that would identify the rare bird for us are located on the head of said bird. It took us a good twenty minutes to find the bird. With this we were greatly assisted when a commoner widgeon, possibly jealous of all the attention that its American counterpart had received, pecked the bottom of the rarer American widgeon. The bird shot its head up in outrage and promptly waddled off to a different portion of the field, thankfully at the front of the flock, where we could watch it feeding undisturbed. A redshank moved amongst the flock of ducks, searching in the wet grassland with its beak.

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Having had really close views and discussed the merits of the bird we headed for Attenborough suitably impressed. We had a look in the centre which is ten years old. There was a range of photos David Attenborough was prominent amongst them, he had a lovely face.

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Anyway the sand martin hide and rear of the centre was closed off due to the high winds, so we made our way to the wheatear field. Despite the gusts of winds and cold, a Cetti’s warbler was singing from the reed bed next to the nature centre. The two male red crested pochards we had viewed last time we visited, have been joined by two female birds.

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The usual swans, geese and ducks including the common  daffyus hybrids and an extremely ugly Muscovy sitting on the path were also present.

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In the middle of the wheatear field was a little ringed plover, in pristine plumage, showing very clearly. We set up telescopes and viewed it for a at least 20 minutes, noticing the flesh coloured legs, golden eye ring and white patch above the bill. As the weather worsened, the bird merely hunkered down against the vegetation. This cannot have afforded it much protection against the elements.

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We shared our view with others, as we were watching a buzzard flew over tween pond causing us to gaze skywards in time to observe three sand martins swerving across the darkening sky before disappearing from view behind a line of willows. I wanted to check my prediction that the blackthorn (sloes) were in blossom and I was correct. I took some photos for you from my phone.

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The clouds grew increasingly black and the wind speed accelerated, therefore not wishing to get our equipment wet we headed back to the car park.

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I found white dead nettle, ground ivy and dandelion in flower. I photographed them for you.

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In the garden the daffodils are in flower, the hyacinths are also blooming as is the muscari and spring squill. The hellebores are magnificent and the tulips are in bud. The buds on the pear tree are breaking and I am hoping that you will be home in time to enjoy them later this week.

 Since Saturday the weather has been very wet and windy keeping us busy indoors. I went on a quilting workshop on Sunday and visited a friend today. I am hoping the weather improves for your visit so we can have some walks and the odd trip out Looking forward to seeing you

All my love

Your mother

 

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The beginning of spring.

Whilst midsummer brings the longest day, the summer solstice and winter the shortest day, both the spring and autumn equinoxes provide portals between the seasons. They are a time for change when birds are travelling, plants are awakening or entering dormancy. When animals are either waking from hibernation of fattening themselves up in preparation. The spring equinox in particular is one of the busiest days of the year. It is at this time that the remnants of birds that spend winter in these islands linger. Whilst the first summer visitors arrive. It is therefore a wonderful time for birdwatchers and season watchers alike. It was with this in mind that we headed to the North Norfolk coast on Sunday. The weather was wet further south in Suffolk and though it was both cloudy and cold it remained dry for us. Driving through Nottinghamshire we were surprised to see what we first took to be a skein of about 70 geese flying in v formation across the landscape. As they approached we realised that they were swans. Either Whoopers or Bewicks making their way north. We watched them pass overhead wing beats almost perfectly synchronised. her is a photo of one I took earlier.

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I slept most of the way to Norfolk the drive being particularly long and awoke just outside Kings Lynn We stopped for a leg stretch on the cliff tops at Hunstanton where we saw several fulmars having a wash in the sea just off the coast. Scoters were flying along the coast and the Alexanders was in flower.

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we drove up to Choseley Barns and found a flock of eight yellowhammers gathered together and both red legged and grey partridge in a field. the grey partridge were crouched among the furrows like fluffy clumps of earth. Here is the view from Choseley barns to remind you.

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Heading further round the coast we stopped briefly at Holkham where we saw seven white fronted geese grazing in a meadow we remained in the car so we would not alert them. The skies cleared as we drove towards Cley and visited the café. We were both so hungry getting up at dawn can do that. Suitably refreshed we took stock of what was about and headed to Weybourne. This area of coast is just beside the Muckeborough museum where we saw the military vehicles one memorable holiday. We hadn’t visited the coastal part before so this was a new site for us. As we approached a group of birdwatchers were studying a small pond over a hedge adjacent to the car park. We hurried to join them and were treated to the sight on a pair of garganey ducks. they really are one of the cutest duck species and very easily identified with that white blaze on the head and neck. The female was also very well marked. we saw them for a few minutes before they went behind an island and out of view when we turned our attention to the dunes and were rewarded with two male wheatears on the field of rough grassland. we watched them for rather longer enjoying the site of one of the earliest migrants. The Lapland buntings and snow buntings that had been reported on the site had been flushed when a dog walker walked across their field. thankfully a Lapland bunting was showing well at salthouses. we made our way back along the coast road and parked near a small bridge. The car park on the shingle has disappeared leaving only a turning circle where it used to stand. I miss it turnstones, shore larks and snow buntings used to be there people used to leave seed out for the snow buntings on the bank. Anyway we watched the Lapland bunting which gave excellent views. It is not the most attractive species looking rather like a reed bunting female and sparrow coloured. When it got tired of the attention it flew across the road and into the long grass on the other side much to the chagrin of the birdwatchers.  we met some friends of your father’s and had quite a catch up dragonfly society members.

I Found this rather amusing road sign and took a picture to amuse you

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There were a number of large clumps of primroses in flower on the banks beside the lane.

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One of the birdwatchers was talking about a black redstart at Felbrigg Hall. The car park area was where we saw the firecrest some years ago and the trees adjacent to the car park we saw redpolls and crossbills on a separate occasion. We decided to drive to the hall. When we got there we learned that there was a grey wagtail also on the hall building. We pottered down to the hall stopping to chat to an elderly gentleman eating an orange who told us about the birds he had seen.

Being a birder is a bit like walking a dog, people who would normally never speak to you, come and ask you what you have seen, or tell you tales of their encounters with wildlife, or offer suggestions. Some attempt to play a form of birding top trumps, twitchers are especially prone to this game. Others will seek to rubbish anything you see to assert their own superiority in much the same way as some insecure people criticise others in order to make themselves look better. You know how I abhor this last move as I have been rather vocal about it on a number of occasions when someone has rained on my parade.

In the same way dog walkers  will spontaneously talk to each other. Some have a society of their own where they stand on the park chatting whilst their dogs frolic about, the only criterion for membership is walking a dog.

The black redstart put on a remarkable display hopping along the guttering, turning to flaunt its rufus tail, flying up to catch an insect then returning to hop along a bit further. When it had become fed up it fluttered around the side of the house out of view. I photographed the house good luck trying to see the bird.

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The gorse was in flower so kissing is in season. It was covered in a number of diptera species.

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We were told that there were two mandarins on the lake so we went in search of them. The lake is joined by a muddy stream with patches of rough sedge and reeds. Among these islands of vegetation snipe were lurking, teal were dabbling and moorhens were chugging along.

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The lake was full of gadwell, tufted duck, coots, mallards and generally the usual suspects, no sign however of mandarin. To get some exercise after such a long drive we walked around the lake and I photographed some of the vegetation. At the back of the lake we found a wooden screen and staring through that we spotted two make mandarins and a female among the trees. If you enlarge the photo you can just spot them. However here is a second photo illustrating male mandarins I took this somewhere else with tamer birds.

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We finished the day at Titchwell where we spectacularly failed to see a little gull, Mediterranean gull and greenshank. we did however manage to see a lovely sunset. On the way home a barn owl, knowing no doubt that we were birders, tried to fly into our car. Thankfully it passed over the car but frightened us both as injuring or killing a barn owl would have spoiled our month let alone our day. We look forward to seeing you at Easter. So ended a lovely day. We saw 84 species of bird and nine that were new for the year.

Your loving mother

Snowdrops An Introduction

INTRODUCTION

ORIGIN AND CLASSIFCATION

Robert Dodoens first described snowdrops as a separate species in 1583. Even though the species was called Leucoion bulbosum triphyllon, the associated picture clearly illustrates a snowdrop (Stern, 1956). The species was described as a stranger to Belgium but as common in Italy.  In the sixteenth century pictures of snowdrops appeared and the term snowdrop originated from the word Scheetropfen, i.e. pendants worn in the sixteenth century. There are many folk names for these plants, some of which, such as ‘Fair maids of February’ and ‘Perce neige,’ reflect their time of flowering. Linneaus described the genus Galanthus in Systema Naturae in 1735.

Galanthus nivalis was first recorded wild in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire in 1770 (Bourne, 2000).

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The name Galanthus translates from Greek and means milk flower resembling snow. The genus contains eighteen species spread across Europe and Asia; most are woodland species though there are some grassland or mountain species. Galanthus Elwesii is named after Henry Elwes from Gloucestershire who introduced the species to Britain in 1874 from Mount Balansa in Smyrna Turkey where it had been discovered in 1854.

Snowdrops are classified by the vegetative characteristics of their leaves and their position relative to one another.  There are three groups:

  • The Nivalis group whose leaves are flat and applied against each other, e.g. nivalis The Plicati group whose leaves show externally recurved edges, e.g. G. plicatus
  • The Latifoli group whose leaves are rolled within each other at emergence, e.g. Elwesii (Le Nard & De Hertogh 1993).
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 Arrangement of leaves in groups of Galanthus species from left to right Nivalis group, Plicati group and Latifoli group

Within these groups the species have been separated by such characteristics as the markings on the inner segments, by the length of the pedicel in relation to the length of the spathe and by the colour and shape of the leaves. All of these characteristics appear to be reliable in classifying wild plants (Stern, 1956)

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 galanthus elwesii

 

  1. Elwesii G. nivalis

BOTANY

Galanthus belongs to the subclass Monocotyledonae and the family Amaryllidacae and the basic chromosome number is n = 12 (Rees, 1992). All wild species are diploid with the exception of some forms of G. Elwesii subspecies elwesii which are tetraploid and G. rizehensis which has a triploid form. The tetraploid G. Elwesii exhibits considerable variability in the size of the leaves and the flowers, which could be as a result of its polyploid form (Stern, 1956).

Bulb structure

snowdrop bulb structure

The snowdrop bulb resembles that of the Narcissus but is much smaller and simpler. The storage organ is a truncated bulb, comprised of a tunic and two fleshy scales, which are the bases of the sheathing leaves and the bases of the two foliar leaves.

Each scale acts as a storage organ for a year.  A new bulb unit forms in the axil of the outer leaf and comprises a sheathing leaf, two foliar leaves and an apical flowering stem. Each scale is thickened on one half of the circumference by corrugations on the inner side beneath the epidermis and this thickening occurs on opposite sides of the two bulb scales. At flowering time airspaces are formed between each pair of the corrugations. In some bulbs, a second flowering stem is initiated at the base of the second leaf. Bulbs have a cold requirement that must be satisfied before the bulb can re-grow. Bulbs rest from the time the foliage dies down until early autumn. Immediately after the foliage has died down, accumulated assimilates are stored within the bulb, such that the bulbs have maximum size and possibly enhanced vigour at this stage. Flowers are initiated before the foliage dies down and cold is necessary for extension growth, with the timing of emergence and anthesis in spring determined by ambient temperature (Rees, 1992). Plant growth occurs in autumn and flowering can start in October for some species, however most species flower from January to March.

Leaves

Leaves are enclosed in a tubular membranous strongly ribbed sheath comparable with that of Narcissus. The species of Galanthus have been classified by the way in which the leaves appear out of the ground. The leaves may be narrow, broad or elliptic and in the Plicati group the margins of the leaves are folded outwards.

The colour of the leaves varies from deep green to glaucous green with a dull or polished surface.

Flower development

Flower initiation takes place immediately after flowering during late winter and by June the differentiation of the flower is complete. Flower initiation is only observed in bulbs of more than 4cm circumference. The scape is cylindrical or compressed, green or glaucous arising from between the leaves; occasionally more than one scape is produced from one pair of leaves. At the end of the scape, the spathe is formed of two green leafy bracteoles (Stern, 1956). These are joined at the margin by two membranes. One membrane splits to enable the flower and pedicel to emerge, the other shrinks in width drawing the bracteoles together, so that the membrane is hardly visible. In most species there is a white membranous margin at the point where the pedicel issues from the scape, though in some species of G. ikariae, G. fosteri and G. rizehensis this membrane is absent. The following stages have been observed during flower differentiation.

Stage 1.            Full initiation of the sheathing leaf and foliage leaves; the apex is still vegetative.

Stage 2.            Raising and broadening of the growing point and formation of the main growing point in the axil of the first foliage leaf.

Stage SP.         Both spathe leaves are initiated.

Stage P1.         The three tepals of the first whorl are fully initiated

Stage P2.         The three tepals of the second whorl are fully initiated.

Stage A1.         The three stamens of the first whorl are fully initiated.

Stage A2.         The three stamens of the second whorl are fully initiated.

Stage G.           Formation and development of the carpels.

Stage G+          Formation of the style.

Flower structure

The flower is pendant, and its position is reversed when it bursts as a bud from between the two spathes that form a protecting cover when it is first pushed above the ground. In all snowdrops, the flowers are solitary, white, globular or bell shaped and pendulous. The three inner segments of the perianth are considerably smaller than the three outer segments forming a kind of inverted cup around the stigma and stamens (Synge, 1961). The inner petals are notched at the tips and fused at the base and show a green mark around the tip

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Inflorescence of G. Elwesii                            Seed pod of G. Elwesii

Though generally single flowered, a double flowered form of G nivalis exists known as “Flore Pleno”.

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 The scape is in a central position between the leaves and has a length of between 10 and 20 cm (Le Nard & De Hertogh, 1993).

The anthers  of snowdrops do not dehisce to discharge pollen but are formed like sacks with a small opening at the mouth. If touched by an insect, pollen is scattered through the opening. The pollen may also be carried by the wind. Most of the flowers are fertilised by bees, which cling to the inner segments and insert their head and thorax in search of nectar and are coated with pollen in the process.  The style is longer than the stamens, white, slender with capitate stigma arising from the ovary, which is globose, green or glaucous composed of three loculi

Seeds

Galanthus is propagated by seed under natural conditions. The seed is light brown approx. 3.5 mm long and obtusely oblong with a fleshy caruncle, which is a light colour when fresh (Stern, 1956). Many species produce seed and the resultant seedlings flower in 3-4 years (Wilderspin, 1999). Snowdrop seeds germinate viviparously (Rees, 1992). Seeds can be sown as soon as they are ripe in summer.  Like some other bulb plants they have limited viability and therefore it is advisable to plant them when fresh (Rees, 1992).  The seeds will start to grow in the following spring and it takes between four to five growing seasons before flowering is observed; however, bulbets to be used as planting stock can be obtained after the second growing season (Le Nard & De Hertogh, 1993). Division of clumps of snowdrops before the foliage dies increases the numbers of bulbs the following spring.

GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION OF GALANTHUS

The genus is confined to Europe, Asia Minor and the Caucasus. Galanthus nivalis has the widest distribution of all, being found throughout Europe from Spain in the West to the river Don in Russia in the East and as far north as Scandinavia. Stern (1956) reports that this species is not indigenous to Britain but has become naturalised throughout the country. Many subspecies are found in small geographical areas in Lebanon, Sicily and the Balkans. Several of these species flower in the autumn and have slightly different characteristics by which they may be identified. On the Greek islands, G. ikariae subspecies iIkariae is found.

G. ikariae

Galanthus Ikariae

Galanthus ikariae latifolius is indigenous to the Caucasus region.

Galanthus Elwesii elwesii is reported on the islands of Samoe and Thasos. This plant is prolific around Smyrna and H.J. Elwes is said to have received it from near Sofia (Stern, 1956). Galanthus Elwesii var. maximus occurs in the Balkans and has characteristic twisted foliage whereas G. graceus is indigenous to Thrace and Bulgaria. Galanthus fosteri is found in the north central area of Asia Minor near Amasia however it has also been found further south in Lebanon.

Galanthus fosteri

Galanthus fosteri

Galanthus rizehensis, a species that has triploid forms, is found near Trebizondit.

Galanthus rizehensis

Galanthus rizehensis

It  has characteristics of both G. ikariae latifolius and G. nivalis and grows in the same area as G. ikariae latifolius and may be derived from that species (Stern, 1956).Galanthus alleni is found in the province of Gruzia in the central Caucasus whereas G. caucasus grows throughout the western and eastern districts of the Caucasus and spreads as far as Iran.

Galanthus alleni

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In the East Caucasus in the province of Talysh, a Russian botanist named the species G. transcaucasicus about which nothing appears to be known outside Russia. Galanthus bazantinus is found in the area around Bursa east of the Bosphorus and has characteristics intermediate between those of G. Elwesii (inner segment markings) and G. plicatus (reduplicate margins to the leaves).

Galanthus bazantinus

Galanthus bazantinus

Galanthus plicatus can be found in the Crimea, but is also found in the Dobruja area. Another species with reduplicate leaves, G. woronowii, is described by a Russian botanist. This species is endemic in the area around Sochi east of the Crimea on the Black Sea coast. Nine species are found in Asia Minor and the Caucasus.

Galanthus plicatus

galanthus plicatus

Galanthus woronowii

Galanthus woronowii

Most Galanthus species are collected from the wild in Turkey and France, however this is ecologically unsound. Dutch statistics show that 59 million snowdrop bulbs were exported world-wide from Holland in 1989 (Hanks, 1991). Le Nard and De Hertogh (1993) state that The Netherlands exported 48 million snowdrop bulbs in 1985-1986.  Improved propagation techniques could eliminate the need for the depletion of indigenous populations.  The creation of self-sustaining commercial populations could lead to increased sales and greater diversity of species and hybrids available.

CULTIVATION

All the species are hardy and most are easy to grow as they multiply into large clumps of bulbs. Some species thrive in open sunny positions, for example G. Elwesii (Bowles, 1918) and G. caucasicus (Stern, 1956), others thrive best in semi-shaded conditions, for example  G. nivalis and G. plicatus (Synge, 1961; Mothew, 1973).

Galanthus nivalis under trees

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Galanthus nivalis in grassland

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Snowdrops flourish on chalk and clay soils.  They require an adequate supply of moisture and organic matter and thrive best with a certain amount of shading, as the foliage is susceptible to scorching.  They are intolerant of animal manure, but may be fertilised with dried blood or bone meal (Synge, 1961; Mothew, 1973).  All snowdrops are best moved and divided while they are making growth or just after they have flowered.  They are collected from the wild in late March / early April when the leaves are still green.  The bulbs are very sensitive to desiccation.  The soil pH must be near 7 to ensure well tunicated bulbs.  The bulbs are planted in August / September at a depth of 5 – 10 cm.  Some species, such as G. graecus and G. byzantinus, seed freely and different species cross with each other in cultivation (Stern, 1956) providing opportunities to develop new forms. Snowdrops are relatively free from pests and diseases though there are reports of stem nematode Ditylenchus dipsaci appearing in snowdrops (Rees, 1992).

Ditylenchus dipsaci

Ditylenchus dipsaci

 Symptoms resemble those found in narcissus, i.e. leaves are short, distorted and pale with a few elongated lesions. Bulbs are soft and when cut open reveal characteristic brown rings. There is no curative treatment available.

Damage to bulbs from Dulylenchus dipsaci

Bulbs also can contain a variety of fungal contaminants such as Fusarium spp.

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OBJECTIVES

In order to reduce the numbers of bulbs being removed from the wild it is necessary to improve commercial propagation of Galanthus bulbs. The main objective of the project is to investigate the vegetative propagation of Galanthus using chipping and micropropagation to determine the optimum method of propagating large numbers of bulbs. In order to propagate Galanthus bulbs, it is first necessary to reduce the microbial contamination within the tissues.  An optimum treatment has to be established for the surface sterilisation of tissue explants from bulbs using surface sterilisation, hot water treatment of bulbs and antimicrobial chemicals (antibiotics/fungicides). Snowdrops have been propagated through the production of adventitious shoots and or somatic embryos from leaf tissue, floral scapes and ovaries of G. nivalis & G. Elwesii cultured in vitro (Girmen and Zimmer, 1988a, b & c) and this method of propagation is assessed. There are many papers published on the production of adventitious shoots and somatic embryos from Narcissus a closely related bulb genus (Hussey, 1980; Sage et al., 2000; Hosoki & Asahira, 1980).

Partial solar eclipse

Yesterday was a special day for a number of reasons. It was happiness day according to Google. It was the first day of Spring and it was the day of the partial solar eclipse.

There had been quite a bit of tension concerning the latter. Presentations had been sent warning students not to look directly at the sun. Pinholes had been made to reflect the eclipse onto a separate sheet of paper. Warnings had been issued. We supplied bowls of water so that the reflection would be visible in the bowl. There had been a lot of debate on how cloudy the weather would be and  how this would affect the eclipse. Therefore it was with considerable relief that I drove to work in blazing sunshine on Friday.

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One of those clear cold mornings that you get in the Mediterranean as well as here in England. Where you are it would have developed into a blazing hot day I am sure but here the sun is not that hot yet. We ran about supplying drawing pins (hopefully to make pinholes in card not other students) and card and anything else we could find that would be useful. I found if I wore my sunglasses and looked through the blue glass we use for magnesium flames the eclipse was quite clear and for a short time I could observe it without discomfort.

The students came out at 9:15 and stood around chatting watching the eclipse and mucking around. I was frightened some enterprising student would see the bowls of water as an opportunity to have a water fight. It turns out I was mistaken and they were remarkably well behaved.

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Here are some pictures I took from outside.

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At about 9:25 the sunlight dimmed and it became cold very quickly. It was reminiscent of afternoon when the shadows lengthen. However it did not get dark per se.

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After about 9:30 when the eclipse reached it maximum we went indoors, where we discovered that if one looked through the filthy windows in the foyer the eclipse was much more visible especially now that the clouds were partially obscuring the sun cutting down the light. Here are some photos from that position. It is the only time I have been grateful for the cleaners slatternly habits as the dirty windows gave me a great view.

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Well it will be some time before we see another eclipse and I know that it was cloudy in London and probably too far south in Rome so I hope you like the photos.

Your loving mother

The Return of Winter

How a day can change everything? Sunday it was so cold. In this country we certainly get all four seasons, but do we have to have them all in the same 24 hour period? The sky was grey and cloudy and a bitter lazy wind was blowing. A lazy wind cannot be bothered to go around you it merely passes through you. The five layers of clothing I was wearing offered me little protection from its chilly blast. As the weather looked so threatening we decided to go to Attenborough Nature Reserve.

Accordingly after a leisurely breakfast we pottered down in the car taking out scopes and bins. The area around the nature centre was packed with dog walkers, amongst them parents with pushchairs and toddlers small children on bikes and wheelchairs were everywhere. As we weaved our way in and out of the crowds an adult on a bike would hurtle past worrying me about the possibility of hitting a child.

From the bridge near the nature centre, a Cettis warbler was singing. We stationed ourselves beside the bridge and stared fixedly at the reeds until we were rewarded with an excellent view of him, low in the reeds, clinging onto a reed stem, as he fanned his tail for support and sang so loudly you could hear it from the duck feeding area. That was a new sighting for the year. A couple of Red Crested Pochard males swam near the bridge to the nature centre another first sighting for the year.

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I photographed the Egyptian geese

and the Pochard as well as a number of other ducks.

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I then went to talk to a couple who have bravely set up a gazebo under which they were attempting to make willow sculptures. We briefly considered buying a willow bittern so we could plant it near the pond in the garden and then phone you with the news that a bittern was seen near our pond. Amusing as we found this idea we realised you would be considerably annoyed by our childish behaviour. Do you remember your response to the stone otters in Scotland and how angry you were that we had conned you?

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Anyway I spent some time making a willow heron. I found it quite enjoyable and relaxing. The heron did look as if he had just eaten a large meal once I had finished. Here is the heron when I left. I hope you have a vivid imagination as you will need it.

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From the hide we saw a very smart Redwing all the usual ducky suspects. We just missed a Water Rail in front of the hide and had all three common tit species on the tree. The feeders have been taken down as rats have become a problem. We found a flock of Fieldfare on the other side of the river Trent. One Fieldfare alone was in the Wheatear field.

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The  invisible fieldfare

The plumage he had was marvellous so pristine I am assuming he was on his way north to breed. Again too far away for a decent photo here is the one I took but not great. Perhaps birds can detect changes in air pressure that we are unable to detect, for as we reached the furthest point of the short circuit it began to rain not particularly heavily but with determination. We were so far round that to return was as tedious as following the circuit.

Therefore we pressed on I found an elder bush in leaf.

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Likewise I saw willow buds just breaking.

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Along a hedge the blackthorns were just beginning to show the white of the blossom in their buds. Within a week or two they will be a mass of white blooms. We met someone who had seen brimstone butterfly, alas no butterflies fluttered for us. The rain increased persistently, although the wind had abated, we were both getting damp and chilled. The reserve was now deserted. We walked back to the nature centre alone on the path, no dogs snuffled around our ankles, no children crashed into us on their bikes we were able to stroll down the path as we pleased, there were no pushchairs to avoid, no speeding cyclists to endanger us and no dog leads to trip us up. I fully expected to see tumbleweed blowing through. It was amazing how a shower can clear a nature reserve. I called past the willow sculptors and put more willow twigs into the heron, which was looking rather chubby and not the svelte shape drawn on the plan. I made most of the back end.

“What did you do today mummy?”

“I made the backside of a heron dear.”

We bought a calendar for work each from the shop and came home for a hot lunch.

We had taken over two and a half hours, seen 49 species and two that were new for the year.

February the cruellest month

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Someone once called February the cruellest month. Whilst the weather this year is not dreadful for someone who anticipates the first signs of Spring it is a long wait.

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The first signs that spring is on the way are the birds. Even though it is still dark when I leave the house in the morning there is sound from every conceivable perch and vantage point. Great tits, robins, dunnocks, and a song thrush shout about their sexual availability and warn any rivals to vacate their territory. Once I arrive at work mistle thrushes rattle over the car park. A family of long tailed tits frequently search the silver birch trees, whilst a community of robins and dunnocks skulk under the bushes. During the day various species of gull land on the field and stamp around trying to encourage the worms to come to the surface. Occasionally a buzzard flies in and settles on the grass. A family of magpies haunt the bins on the paving outside as pied wagtails strut their stuff outside the building. One memorable afternoon I looked out to find a grey wagtail a few feet from the window seemingly unconcerned with the presence of people.

Funniest of all was the grey squirrel I see most mornings perched on the bin and eating scraps whilst the pieces he discards are pounced upon by a family of magpies gathered in a circle around the bins. By the time I drive home it is dark consequently it is the middle of the month before I realise that a transformation has begun in the garden the snowdrops are in flower.

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There are clumps in every bed some doubles and others the native ones. The catkins are present in the hazel tree shedding pollen as I tap them. I have to search to find the female flowers which are so much smaller.

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We went for a drive at the weekend and found a patch of winter aconites beside the road near Kilington. We had been to see the great northern diver. The aconites were mixed with snowdrops. I photographed them for you.

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For me they were a reassurance that spring is on the way and winter will not last forever.

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Your loving mother

February The Cruellest Month

Someone once called February the cruellest month. Whilst the weather this year is not dreadful for someone who anticipates the first signs of Spring it is a long wait. The first signs that spring is on the way are the birds. Even though it is still dark when I leave the house in the morning there is sound from every conceivable perch and vantage point. Great tits, robins, dunnocks, and a song thrush shout about their sexual availability and warn any rivals to vacate their territory. Once I arrive at work mistle thrushes rattle over the car park. A family of long tailed tits frequently search the silver birch trees, whilst a community of robins and dunnocks skulk under the bushes. During the day various species of gull land on the field and stamp around trying to encourage the worms to come to the surface. Occasionally a buzzard flies in and settles on the grass. A family of magpies haunt the bins on the paving outside as pied wagtails strut their stuff outside the building. One memorable afternoon I looked out to find a grey wagtail a few feet from the window seemingly unconcerned with the presence of people.

Funniest of all was the grey squirrel I see most mornings perched on the bin and eating scraps whilst the pieces he discards are pounced upon by a family of magpies gathered in a circle around the bins. By the time I drive home it is dark consequently it is the middle of the month before I realise that a transformation has begun in the garden the snowdrops are in flower.

Walking at Rufford looking for hawfinches I took some shots of the snowdrops

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Tthere are clumps in every bed some doubles and others the native ones. The catkins are present in the hazel tree shedding pollen as I tap them. I have to search to find the female flowers which are so much smaller.

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We went for a drive at the weekend and found a patch of winter aconites beside the road near Kilington. We had been to see the great northern diver. The aconites were mixed with snowdrops. I photographed them for you.

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For me they were a reassurance that spring is on the way and winter will not last forever.

Your loving mother

March comes in like a lion

March comes in

like a lion

Last Saturday felt like the first day of spring. The temperature was a balmy 15 degrees centigrade. The sky was a baby blue with small scudding clouds that passed swiftly overhead and for the first time this

year the sun warmed the back of your neck if you stood for a few moments. We decided to walk along the Cromford canal from the mill along to past the bridge on the river, retracing our steps once we had walked enough.

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Next to the mill a rather aggressive swan was seeing off a pair of Canada geese.

We meandered slowly along noting every bit of wildlife we could find. There were so many indications of incipient spring. We found a clump of primroses ( Primula vulgaris)beside the track.

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A little further on we saw the first coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) just the flower visible not the leaf. Once the sun came from behind a cloud the flower opened fully it was dazzlingly bright against the muted colours around.

Wild arum also called cuckoo pint (Arum maculatum) was beginning to show leaf in the bottom of the woodland.  Wild garlic or ransomes (Allium ursinum) was just showing the tip of its leaves.

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A little way down the track I found some Mercurialis perennis  or dog’s mercury growing this plant is an indicator of ancient woodland thus I assume the wood beside the path must be quite old.

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As we walked along we noticed several clumps of lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) beside the path. These were the first ones I had seen in flower this year. Again the contrast between the flower when the sun was hidden and the flower when the sun was out was amazing.

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I discovered that the camera on my mobile takes good close up shots so I took a lot of close up photos of ferns mosses and lichens.

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There were catkins on some of the trees these ones were alder catkins and I found a female flower although it is

so bright it is also minute and consequently easily overlooked. The sheep here must lamb later than in some areas as they

were all pregnant still, looking a bit miserable about it all.

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We had lovely views of grey wagtail here is one in a tree if you can spot the bird in this photo I will be impressed.

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A robin sat for quite a few minutes in this tree giving us a performance. Although I am conscious that this call is merely to advertise his sexual prowess and to defend his territory from rival males, it was rather glorious in spring sunshine.

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Three pairs of little grebes had set up territories along the canal. They really are the most frustrating birds to photograph. I would see them sitting near the bank as I snuck up on them. Then as I got within range they would wait until I was just about to take the shot then dive coming up under tree roots on the far bank. I have quite a few shots of ripples with no little grebe visible.

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If they were not so attractive I would have given up trying. It was like being at a firework display trying to take photos of the fireworks and being just that split second too late. The river was high and although we lingered by the bridge we did not see any dippers.

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THE INVISIBLE GREY WAGTAIL

It was such a lovely day that we went on to Carsington water where we saw the Great Northern Diver at some distance and still in winter plumage. There were a pair of willow tits on the bird feeders too quick for me to photograph. The reserve has an impressive flock of over 30 tree sparrows. They appear to do everything together possibly a strategy to avoid

predators. Every few minutes all of the tree sparrows would land simultaneously on a bird feeder where they would frantically eat the seed scattering as much as they ate. Suddenly for no apparent reason they would all fly away back to

the trees moving as if they were a single organism.

A flock of barnacle geese were among the Canada geese. Couple of collared doves frequented the feeders keeping a close watch as they fed. We completed our day with a walk along the river at Grindleford where try as we might we could not

find a dipper. We came home along the back roads over Froggatts Edge. We passed o a narrow road that wound up and down steep valleys passed moorland fields wth stone walls and copses. The sun was low enough in the sky to cast long

shadows and produce that golden quality of light so beloved of filmmakers. A frmer had spread a load of manure over one field. As a result every corvid for miles around had converged on this field with calls of delight. They were all

frantically digging their beaks into the black smelly mess looking for invertebrates. It is strange that a substance so repellent to us should be the source of so much delight to them.

I know I am anthropomorphising, but they appeared to relish their actions. We failed to see a raven despite the hundreds

of corvids present. It was a truly marvellous day