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Picea - the spruces

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Mushrooms of Langsett (Part One)

I paid a visit to the woods around Langsett Reservoir yesterday to have a play with my new toy, a Nikon D5100 SLR. I knew there’d be plenty of fungi around and I wasn’t disappointed!

I’ve never seen one of these before. I’m by no means confident I’ve identified it correctly but Cystolepiota seminuda is my best guess.

Here’s a typical scene in the part of the woods where I first set about hunting for mushrooms. It’s Scots pine and spruce plantation, with the odd broadleaf chucked in, probably planted in the early 1960s. There were mushrooms about but I didn’t see nearly as many as when I later moved into a mainly broadleaved, birch-dominated part of the woods.

A spruce cone on a conifer stump left behind after thinning. Some small mammal has been making a meal out of it - probably a squirrel (a mouse would have made a neater job and chosen a more secluded place to have its dinner). Whoever was eating it was disturbed (by me?) before the cone could be fully stripped.

Leaving the plantation behind, a cluster of poppies made for a nice juxtaposition.

The birch-dominated part of the woods was also a conifer plantation in the not too distant past, judging by the old stumps everywhere. Native broadleaved species such as downy birch (Betula pubescens) and rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) have quickly colonised the area, and mushrooms were in abundance!

A couple of small mushrooms at the mossy feet of a young rowan.

An unfortunate incident has befallen this mushroom, providing the opportunity for a good look at its pore tubes.

This spiky little ball definitely belongs in the genus Lycoperdon. I’m fairly sure it’s a L. echinatum.

Continued in Part the Second...

Posted in Gone for a walk

A walk through Yew Trees Lane Wood (Part Two)

Hazel (Corylus avellana).

Photos taken on the 26th of September (Part One here).

Rose-bay willow-herb (Epilobium angustifolium) in a small area of clear-fell.

Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis).

Ewden Brows.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium). Psst. Wanna see a photo of the same holly in February?

Three brothers. On the left: a hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). In the middle: a fairly recently deceased beech (Fagus sylvatica). On the right: a longer-dead tree, probably a beech also.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Aira Force: the money tree, the waterfall, & the GIANT spruce

Three weeks ago yesterday I was travelling back from a week’s stay in the Highlands. Seeing as the road passed so close to Aira Force near Penrith, a detour was made. I discovered Aira Force completely by chance with a load of my eco-mates in May 2008 when we day-tripped out of Center Parcs. It was an awesome little trip that made a lasting impression on me, and I’ve wanted to go back ever since. There are a number of highlights to a visit to Aira Falls: there’s the money tree, there’s the actual waterfall, there’s the beautiful bit of river above the fall, there’s the whopping huge Sitka spruce, and there’s the general ambiance of the place… All this can be taken in and enjoyed in a couple of hours, but if the weather is tozzing I’d be more than happy to spend a whole day there.

And there it is! The famous Aira Force Money Tree! It is a tree wrapped in coins inside an enigma. How did it begin? Who hammered in the first coins? Who remembers to bring a hammer and coins along? How long did it take to completely cover the tree in coins, and how long since it was covered?

Coins galore, all bent by hammering. 1ps, 2ps, and a few 5ps.

A-ha! A bracket fungus growing (on alder? on hazel?) down by the beck. Q: What flavour are you? A: I think I’m a Laetiporus sulphurous - chicken of the woods, sulphur polypore. But I’m not sure. Can you help us, dear reader?

A quadruple hazelnut cluster (Corylus avellana).

A-ha! Another bracket fungus, definitely growing on an alder this time (Alnus glutinosa)! Q: What flavour are you? A: I think I’m a Ganoderma, perhaps G. applanatum - artist’s conk - but I’m not sure. These days I am old and blackened, but have a look at me as I was last year:

The same bracket on the 14th of May 2008. Again, dear reader – can you help ID?

Aira Force itself: an impressive 20 m / 65 ft drop (force, from the old Norse fors or foss, meaning waterfall.)

Downstream of the fall, Aira Beck flows through a gorge. Some of the oaks growing on the steep slope above the water were festooned with epiphytes. This photo shows a section of trunk about thirty feet up covered with mosses and ferns. I’ve seen trees dripping with lichens, but I can’t remember seeing British trees covered in ferns to this height. Remarkable.

This gargantuan Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) grows with one tree-sized limb hanging right out into space over the gorge. I have yet to see the ridonculous dimensions of this tree done justice to by a camera. Even with a bloke stood at the base, you cannot appreciate the scale of this thing the way you can when you’re actually stood gawping at it. The spruce is apparently part of an arboretum planted by the Howard family of Greystoke Castle in 1846. Well big.

* * * * *

And if you’re in the mood, how about a bonus poem by William Wordsworth?

The Somnambulist
Composed or suggested during a tour in the summer of 1833.

This poem might be dedicated to my friends, Sir G. Beaumont and Mr. Rogers, jointly. While we were making an excursion together in this part of the Lake District we heard that Mr. Glover, the artist, while lodging at Lyulph's Tower, had been disturbed by a loud shriek, and upon rising he had learnt that it had come from a young woman in the house who was in the habit of walking in her sleep. In that state she had gone downstairs, and, while attempting to open the outer door, either from some difficulty or the effect of the cold stone upon her feet, had uttered the cry which alarmed him. It seemed to us all that this might serve as a hint for a poem, and the story here told was constructed and soon after put into verse by me as it now stands.

LIST, ye who pass by Lyulph's Tower
At eve; how softly then
Doth Aira-force, that torrent hoarse,
Speak from the woody glen!
Fit music for a solemn vale!
And holier seems the ground
To him who catches on the gale
The spirit of a mournful tale,
Embodied in the sound.

Not far from that fair site whereon
The Pleasure-house is reared,
As story says, in antique days
A stern-browed house appeared;
Foil to a Jewel rich in light
There set, and guarded well;
Cage for a Bird of plumage bright,
Sweet-voiced, nor wishing for a flight
Beyond her native dell.

To win this bright Bird from her cage,
To make this Gem their own,
Came Barons bold, with store of gold,
And Knights of high renown;
But one She prized, and only one;
Sir Eglamore was he;
Full happy season, when was known,
Ye Dales and Hills! to yon alone
Their mutual loyalty--

Known chiefly, Aira! to thy glen,
Thy brook, and bowers of holly;
Where Passion caught what Nature taught,
That all but love is folly;
Where Fact with Fancy stooped to play;
Doubt came not, nor regret--
To trouble hours that winged their way,
As if through an immortal day
Whose sun could never set.

But in old times Love dwelt not long
Sequestered with repose;
Best throve the fire of chaste desire,
Fanned by the breath of foes.
"A conquering lance is beauty's test,
"And proves the Lover true;"
So spake Sir Eglamore, and pressed
The drooping Emma to his breast,
And looked a blind adieu.

They parted.--Well with him it fared
Through wide-spread regions errant;
A knight of proof in love's behoof,
The thirst of fame his warrant:
And She her happiness can build
On woman's quiet hours;
Though faint, compared with spear and shield,
The solace beads and masses yield,
And needlework and flowers.

Yet blest was Emma when she heard
Her Champion's praise recounted;
Though brain would swim, and eyes grow dim,
And high her blushes mounted;
Or when a bold heroic lay
She warbled from full heart;
Delightful blossoms for the 'May'
Of absence! but they will not stay,
Born only to depart.

Hope wanes with her, while lustre fills
Whatever path he chooses;
As if his orb, that owns no curb,
Received the light hers loses.
He comes not back; an ampler space
Requires for nobler deeds;
He ranges on from place to place,
Till of his doings is no trace,
But what her fancy breeds.

His fame may spread, but in the past
Her spirit finds its centre;
Clear sight She has of what he was,
And that would now content her.
"Still is he my devoted Knight?"
The tear in answer flows;
Month falls on month with heavier weight;
Day sickens round her, and the night
Is empty of repose.

In sleep She sometimes walked abroad,
Deep sighs with quick words blending,
Like that pale Queen whose hands are seen
With fancied spots contending;
But 'she' is innocent of blood,--
The moon is not more pure
That shines aloft, while through the wood
She thrids her way, the sounding Flood
Her melancholy lure!

While 'mid the fern-brake sleeps the doe,
And owls alone are waking,
In white arrayed, glides on the Maid
The downward pathway taking,
That leads her to the torrent's side
And to a holly bower;
By whom on this still night descried?
By whom in that lone place espied?
By thee, Sir Eglamore!

A wandering Ghost, so thinks the Knight, 0
His coming step has thwarted,
Beneath the boughs that heard their vows,
Within whose shade they parted.
Hush, hush, the busy Sleeper see!
Perplexed her fingers seem,
As if they from the holly tree
Green twigs would pluck, as rapidly
Flung from her to the stream.

What means the Spectre? Why intent
To violate the Tree,
Thought Eglamore, by which I swore,
Unfading constancy?
Here am I, and to-morrow's sun,
To her I left, shall prove
That bliss is ne'er so surely won
As when a circuit has been run
Of valour, truth, and love.

So from the spot whereon he stood,
He moved with stealthy pace;
And, drawing nigh, with his living eye,
He recognised the face;
And whispers caught, and speeches small,
Some to the green-leaved tree,
Some muttered to the torrent-fall;--
"Roar on, and bring him with thy call;
"I heard, and so may He!"

Soul-shattered was the Knight, nor knew
If Emma's Ghost it were,
Or boding Shade, or if the Maid
Her very self stood there.
He touched; what followed who shall tell?
The soft touch snapped the thread
Of slumber--shrieking back she fell,
And the Stream whirled her down the dell
Along its foaming bed.

In plunged the Knight!--when on firm ground
The rescued Maiden lay,
Her eyes grew bright with blissful light,
Confusion passed away;
She heard, ere to the throne of grace
Her faithful Spirit flew,
His voice--beheld his speaking face;
And, dying, from his own embrace,
She felt that he was true.

So was he reconciled to life:
Brief words may speak the rest;
Within the dell he built a cell,
And there was Sorrow's guest;
In hermits' weeds repose he found,
From vain temptations free;
Beside the torrent dwelling--bound
By one deep heart-controlling sound,
And awed to piety.

Wild stream of Aira, hold thy course,
Nor fear memorial lays,
Where clouds that spread in solemn shade,
Are edged with golden rays!
Dear art thou to the light of heaven,
Though minister of sorrow;
Sweet is thy voice at pensive even;
And thou, in lovers' hearts forgiven,
Shalt take thy place with Yarrow!

Posted in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips + Notable trees

Out on the bike: around Langsett and back (Part 4 of 4)

Fig. 1.a. Male pine (Pinus) flowers. Species unknown.

Fig. 1.b. Close-up.

Fig. 2. New spruce (Picea - probably P. sitchensis, Sitka spruce) growth.

Fig. 3. New larch (Larix) growth.

Fig. 4. Flowering pine, probably Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

Fig. 5.a. Unknown flowering pine.

Fig. 5.b. Male flowers.

Fig. 5.c. Three female flowers (red); male flowers in background.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

Posted in Gone for a walk

Photos from a walk down Ewden (21st February 2009): Part Two

Carrying on from where I left off... While Part One was all about the broadleaves (and there was holly and hawthorn and sycamore and ash), Part Two is all about the conifers (and there is pine and Sitka spruce and larch, plus cameos from holly and oak). Enjoy!

Right on the edge of Broomhead Reservoir, a couple of the wee nippers that are springing up from seed dropped by the big forestry trees overhead. On the left, a luscious young pine (Pinus); on the right, a Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) seedling.

One particular spot, again right at the edge of the reservoir, was rich in chewed up spruce cones. The one shown in this photo is wedged between the spikes of a holly leaf. I saw another also wedged on a holly leaf and one wedged upright into a crack in the stump of a felled tree (see photo below). This stump was the centre of the cone stripping activity - obviously a favoured eating spot for some creature. From my Animal Tracks and Signs book, by Preben Bang and Preben Dahlstrøm:

Cones are a very important food… and conifer seeds form the bulk of [a squirrel’s] diet for a large part of the year… Fallen cones… are generally gnawed on the ground. The squirrel will usually sit on a little hillock or tree stump, so it has a good view all around and can spot possible danger in plenty of time… Squirrels begin gnawing at the base of the cone, holding it tilted with their forepaws… When it cannot tear off any more scales… it holds the cone firmly against the ground or branch, with one forepaw on the tip and the other on the scale-bearing section… Squirrels do not normally gnaw off all of the scales, but leave the top ones like a little tuft at the top of the axis. Clearly it would be difficult for it to gnaw off these last few scales, as this is where it has hold of the cone with its paw… As a particular squirrel will always hold a cone the same way, squirrels can be divided into right- or left-handed…

The distinctive, redonculously long leader of a Sitka sapling in an area of natural regeneration following clearfelling.

A recently cut spruce stump. We planted you; we let you grow big and strong; and then we cut you down, because all we ever wanted was your body.

Don’t forget to look up! The green trees are Sitka spruce and the bare trees are larch (Larix), one of the few deciduous conifers.

Much of the land just north of Broomhead Reservoir is forestry plantations of pine, Sitka spruce and larch. It might be owned by the Forestry Commission, but I’m not sure. A few years ago they clearfelled a patch, and more recently some thinning has being going on. Some of the trees that consequently became more exposed have since blown over. The cone in the photo is right at the top of a windthrown Sitka spruce, somewhere I wouldn’t normally get to see. The cones of the other spruce commonly found in Britain, the Norway spruce (Picea abies), have pointy tips.

This is the very topmost tip of the same fallen tree. The distinctive twin blue-white bands on the underside of the needles are waxy strips where the stomata (‘breathing holes’ for photosynthesis) are located. Notice how the needles are pressed upwards close to the shoot at the top of the tree; lower down, the needles are held perpendicular to the tree (like those of the seedling in the first photo).

Posted in Gone for a walk

Photos from Aira Force & Center Parcs

In the last post I showed you the money tree at Aira Force in the Lake District. Well, the fun didn't stop there! Besides Aira Force itself, there were further items of interest to be seen further up the trail.

lush countryside view

View over Ullswater from the footpath leading to Aira Force.

sunny oak woodland

Typical view of the oak woodland around Aira Force.

stony woodland river

Aira Beck upstream of Aira Force. The river looked to be a little low in its flow. Old alders were plentiful - a sort of naturally copiced alder is in the middle of the river in this photograph.

large bracket fungus

This large bracket fungus was growing on a poorly-looking alder growing above Aira Beck.

gigantic birch

Check out this behemoth of a birch! It was so big it was barely recognisable! There were a few similar birches reaching the kind of size most birches never even come close to.

massive spruce

And if the giant birches weren't enough, there was this gigantic Sitka spruce, the like of which I ain't ever seen before! This photo does not do it justice, because in the flesh this tree is a jaw-dropping spectacle. That massive branch alone is as big as your standard ready-for-harvesting forestry Sitka!

tall pines against a blue sky

This is the view from just outside our chalet back at Center Parcs, 69 Seven Pines: some lovely pine. Not bad, eh?

weird spruce root growing over another spruce

And finally, this slice of weirdness was just around the corner from our chalet. The Sitka spruce once growing on the right had grown roots over the left Sitka, and the two trees' roots had merged together a bit. Freakish.

Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees

Field trip to the Italian Alps (Part 2)

rockslide in the Dolomites

A rockslide in the beautiful Dolomites. (16th August)

dwarf pine (pinus mugo)

Dwarf pine (Pinus mugo). Might be making an appearance in the treeblog nursery next year... (16th August)

seasoning resonance wood

‘Resonance wood’ from the Paneveggio Forest, stored to season. The wood has special acoustical properties, making it desirable for the production of musical instruments (mainly violins). Of the 6000 cubic metres of wood felled in the Forest each year, only 0.5% is selected as resonance wood. The wood has very narrow growth rings, coming from trees grown in an optimal and unchanging mountain climate. Other qualities include low specific weight, good elasticity, dimensional stability, and a good ratio of resistance to weight. (18th August)

extracted timber

Timber extracted from the Paneveggio Forest. (18th August)

Norway spruce needles suffering from a fungal infection

Norway spruce (Picea abies) needles suffering from a fungal infection. (18th August)

larch in the mist

Lovely, lovely larch (Larix decidua) in the mist. (21st August)

air, rock, wood, water

I was blown away by this view. So stunning, almost surreal! The lake is called Lago di Calaita (Lake Calaita) but I don't know the name of the mountain. (24th August)

stone building and forest

I took this at a goat farm. The farmer told an inspirational tale about how it had taken him and his wife 10 years to get the farm going properly in the face of fierce resistance from the local population and powers-that-be who believed the smell of the farm would impact negatively on tourism. We watched the goats being milked, then bought a couple of bottles and drank it while it was still warm from the udder. The farm didn't even have much of a smell! (24th August)

spider on bark

A biggie! (25th August)

Posted in Holidays and field trips

Field trip to the Italian Alps (Part 1)

The field trip forms a major part of one of my courses (Research Practice in Forest Ecology) for my Honours year at the University of Edinburgh, and it ran from the 15th to the 26th of August. The purpose of the trip was two-fold; we learned about forestry in the Paneveggio Forest and its surrounds, and we also spent time in the field collecting data for a paper we are to write. Eight of us (seven students and one lecturer) flew out to Treviso (near Venice), and from there we drove up into the Dolomites, part of the Alps. We stayed for most of the trip in a big house in San Martino di Castrozza used by foresters, but the last 3 nights we spent in a couple of log cabins partway up a mountainside.

The foresters’ house where we lived for most of the trip. The sign next to the door read:


The discerning Italian forester's vehicle of choice: a Fiat Panda 4x4.

The log cabins where we spent a few nights. The cabin on the left is the cookhouse and the bunkhouse is on the right. The cabins are part of a malga, a seasonal farm typical to this part of the world. In the past, cattle would have been driven here for summer from the winter pastures in the valleys below.

The night sky as seen from the bunkhouse on the 24th of August. The silhouettes probably belong to Norway spruce (Picea abies). Fifteen second exposure.

We spent one day planning and four days collecting raw data as a group, on which we each have to write an individual paper. The rough question that we were asking was "how do capercaillie chose their breeding sites?" The capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) is a large woodland grouse, with a range encompassing much of Northern Europe. It is also a native of Scotland, although it became extinct in 1785, was later successfully reintroduced... but is now facing extinction for a second time. The capercaillie is found in the Italian Dolomites (where we stayed), but it is less abundant than in the northern Alps.

We created a list of characteristics that could be used to quantify both known brood sites (marked and shown to us by local foresters) and random sites in the local area. We collected this raw data without mishap, but have yet to perform any statistical analysis to determine whether or not there are any significant differences in some or all characteristics between brood and non-brood sites.

I loved collecting the data. We spent all day up a mountain, in the forest. The weather was mostly fine, and it was good fun clambering up and down the ridiculously steep mountainsides. It was my duty to collect data on stand species composition, which meant roaming around each sample plot, counting the large trees and determining their species. The commonest types were Norway spruce, European larch (Larix decidua), European silver fir (Abies alba) and European beech (Fagus sylvatica). Dwarf pine (Pinus mugo) was also common, but this is a shrub rather than a tree. Much less common and a lot smaller were rowan (Sorbus acuparia) and goat willow (Salix caprea). Downy birch (Betula pubescens) and grey alder (Alnus incana) were present but very rare.

Ashley Peace: wannabe forester.

Posted in Holidays and field trips

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