Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mxyomatosis – or – The Explanation for Flattened Rabbits

Mxyomatosis  - Rabbit (Whitcliffe Wood)
It took a while for it to dawn on me and my tour mates that something was amiss with the number of rabbits we kept walking past, dead and deflated, like flattened pancakes. Finally, we asked and learned that the rabbits likely succumbed to mxyomatosis – a disease which affects rabbits and is caused by the Myxoma virus, a kind of pox virus. The virus was discovered over a hundred years ago in South America, used in Australia in the 1930s to control rabbit populations, and then unintentionally introduced to France in the 1950s where it eventually spread to the UK. The photo shown here was taken just west of Richmond, near Whitcliffe Wood. This was day 8, July 31 when we walked from Reeth to Richmond on the Wainwright Coast to Coast. The second photo was day 11, Aug 3 when we walked from Blakey Ridge to Grosmont. The dead rabbit was found up on Glaisdale Moor.
Mxyomatosis  - Rabbit (Glaisdale Moor)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Wainwright Coast to Coast Walk – A Botanical View (Western Part)

 Day 7: Impromptu collection of flowers along the River Swale

This post talks about some of the plants I saw on the first half of a Wainwright Coast to Coast walking tour sponsored by National Geographic. The walk started on July 24th and ended on August 3rd and included 14 of us and 2 guides. We walked about 140 miles in 12 days from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. The flowers mentioned here were all spotted trailside between July 24 (day 1) and July 30 (day 7), what I’m calling the first part of the walk (the western part). The day designation is used in the picture captions below to give a rough idea of where the plant was observed. This is just a sampling of what we saw and in some cases my identification of what we saw may be wrong.

July 24 (day 1) :: St. Bees (Arrive in town and get settled.)
July 25 (day 2) :: St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge
July 26 (day 3) :: Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite
July 27 (day 4) :: Rosthwaite to Glenridding
July 28 (day 5) :: Lake Ullswater to Shap
July 29 (day 6) :: Shap to Ravenstonedale
July 30 (day 7) :: Ravonstonedale to Reeth

The motivation for documenting the flowers? I thought it would be fun to get to know the country in a botanical sense which is quite natural for me. Originally, I thought I would identify one plant a day, but it turns out I couldn’t stop at one. The tools? A camera, a guide book, and an iPad app. The camera: Canon Powershot SD1400. The book: A Naturalist’s Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain & Northern Europe. The app: Interactive Flora of the British Isles.

Part II of this post is here.

Day 1: Convolvulus arvensis - Field Bindweed
We stay at the Seacote Hotel near the ocean and once settled, I wall back into the old town and saw this bindweed on a fence bordering a field.


Day 2: Armeria martima – Thrift
This photo is taken a few minutes before we start the coast to coast walk. It’s on the beach at St. Bees, looking south.
Armeria martima – Thrift
Armeria martima – Thrift


Day 2: Tripleurospermum maritimum – Sea Mayweed
On a rock ledge at St. Bees.
Tripleurospermum maritimum – Sea Mayweed
Tripleurospermum maritimum – Sea Mayweed

Day 2: Aglais urtica - Small Tortoiseshell
Our first real day of hiking and it starts out as a beautiful day on the cliffs north of St. Bees. There is a lot botanically and insect-wise to look at such as this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly.

Day 2: Campanula rotundifolia – Harebell
This is seen along the cliffs just North of St. Bees.

Day 2: Succisa pratensis - Devil's Bit Scabius

Day 2: Cirsium arvense - Creeping Thistle
This thistle smells sweetly. I pop the blossom off and walk a while with it, sniffing it. This picture is taken just after we leave the cliffs north of St. Bees and head east.

Day 2: Juncus effusus – Soft Rush
In some spots, we see large areas covered in rush, typically (over) grazed pasture.

Day 2: Digitalis purpurea – Foxglove

Day 2: Matricaria discoidea - Pineapple Mayweed
One of my favorite plants. It smells like pineapple when you bruise it.

Day 2: Epilobium hirsutum - Great Willowherb
A cousin of Fireweed.

Day 3: Dactylorhiza fuchsii - Common Spotted Orchid
Spot this as we just start to walk along Ennerdale Water near the weir at the west end.


Day 3: Dactylorhiza maculata - Heath Spotted Orchid
As we walk east away from Ennerdale Water along the River Liza I spot this orchid near the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre.

Day 3: Narhecium ossifragum - Bog Asphodel
Along Ennerdale Water.

Day 3: Prunella vulgaris - Self Heal
A common plant this can easily be overlooked. Once you see it, you see it everywhere.

Day 4: Stachys sylvatica - Hedge Woundwort
Smells like sulfur when bruised. I see it in many locations, typically shady spots.This is photographed in Glenridding as we make our way to the Inn on the Lake.


Day 4: Epilobium angustifolium - Fireweed or Rosebay Willow Herb
Epilobium is quite common. On the train ride from London to Penrith I remember seeing quite a bit of it along the tracks.

Day 5: Ulex eruopaeus - Common Gorse
The dreaded Gorse. In reality, we don’t encounter it too much. If you’re a land owner I suppose it is a pain, but for hikers, the stinging nettle is more likely to get you.

Day 5: Geranium pratense - Meadow Crane's-bill
Especially common on the sides of small country lanes. 

Day 5: Spiraea salicifolia – Bridewort
Don’t see Bridewort that much, only this one time.


Day 5: Jasione montana - Sheep's-bit

Day 5: Stellaria holostea - Greater Stitchwort


Day 6: Urtica dioica - Stinging Nettle

I was aware of this plant before Day 6, but Day 6 is the first time I feel its sting.

Day 6: Crataegus monogyna – Hawthorn
This tree is quite common found by itself in open areas.

Day 6: Myosotis laxa - Tufted Forget-me-not
I see this flower along a small stream as we made our way into Orton.


Day 6: Calvatia utriformis - Puff Ball Mushroom
The puff balls look so strange when you come across them in grassy areas.

Day 6: Achillea ptarmica – Sneezewort


Day 6: Galium aparine - Common Cleavers
Quite common and at times can blot out other vegetation. This is photographed just outside of Ravenstonedale.
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Day 7: Filipendula ulmaria – Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet has a nice scent that reminds me a little of baby powder, a subtle scent.

 A Naturalist’s Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain & Northern Europe.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Red v. Grey Squirrel

 A Red Squirrel Road Sign in Ravenstonedale

As we headed into Ravenstonedale on day 6 of the Coast to Coast walk we saw a number of signs about the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). In a nutshell (!), the population of these mohawked-eared cuties has decreased because of the introduction of the eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), an American cousin. The grey squirrel out-competes the red squirrel for a number of reasons including: 1) the grey squirrel can readily eat acorns and the red squirrel can’t and there are a lot of oak trees; 2) the grey squirrel carries a disease that is often fatal to red squirrels; and 3) the red squirrels don’t breed as much when under pressure. More information can be found at the Northern Red Squirrels Site that works to support the reds and the Save Our Squirrels site which has some great information sheets about the plight of the reds.

Telling the Difference Between the Red and Grey Squirrel [ref]

From a book I read, The Diversity of Life, I remember reading that species that have evolved to specialized environments are in general more vulnerable to extinction than less specialized species. The reference to “black spot” in one of the photos, I believe, means a place in the road that is dangerous for squirrels, i.e. they get run over. As for grey squirrels, it is legal to kill them in the UK.

While we are talking about Ravenstonedale and on to more pleasant subjects, I must say that I had a great stay at the Old Vicarage. Tea and cake at 5:30 when I arrived. Most of our group stayed at the Black Swan, also very nice, but, the vicarage was just right for me.

Tea and Cake at the Old Vicarage, Ravenstonedale
Tea and Cake at the Old Vicarage - Ravenstonedale

Day 4:  July 27 Rosthwaite to Glenridding; this sign spotted heading out of Grasmere


Day 5: July 28 Lake ullswater to Shap; this sign spotted near Bampton

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Kate Bush – Director’s Cut and Joyce Seedcakes

Kate Bush - Director's Cut

We were playing around with a new service, MOG (“…the next-generation music subscription service that delivers the highest audio fidelity: 320 kbps.”), on Sonos and found a new Kate Bush album! Woah. The new album is called Director’s Cut (2011) and features four tracks from The Sensual World (1989) and seven from The Red Shoes (1993) – re-recorded. The Red Shoes tracks seem more interesting in their re-recorded versions than we ever remember them on Red Shoes – which admittedly was our least favorite Bush album.

The big story on The Director’s Cut is that the song Flower of the Mountain (a re-titling of the track The Sensual World) now uses the original text from James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was apparently Bush’s original intent but the estate of Joyce didn’t agree to let her use the text back in the late 1980s. Now they have.

The lyrics for Flower of the Mountain come from the end of the novel, in the section called Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. The exception is what we’ll call the chorus part “Stepping out of the page, into the sensual world. Stepping out.” which is the listener’s response to the text. The text from Molly Bloom’s stream of consciousness is shown below with bolded text being what Bush uses in the Flower of the Mountain.

“…and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me [verse1] yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses [verse2] and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another [verse3] and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” [text from Gutenberg.org]

Bush chose wisely.

As folks who didn’t really care much for the Joyce we’ve read – okay one book is not a good sample - this is really quite a bit of analysis on our part, isn’t it? If only Kate Bush would write more songs based on Joyce’s work, it just might persuade us to read more Joyce.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Goodbye Nib Brittle, Hello Salted Almond

Theo Chocolate - Nib Brittle

Theo Chocolate seems to have retired Nib Brittle. We really liked the Nib Brittle bar, but Salted Almond ain’t no slouch. (The somewhat garish pink packaging is a little off-putting.) Goodbye Nib, we really did know ye.

The New Gal on the Block – Salted Almond
Theo Chocolate - Salted Almond

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Goat Lake Hike and Flora

Goat Lake

Today we hiked to Goat Lake. We started from the parking lot off of Mountain Loop Highway (location). We took the lower Elliot loop up and the upper loop back (a road called NF-4080 that is no longer passable by vehicle). The round-trip for us was about 11.5 miles and it took us about 6 hours. We sat and ate lunch at Goat Lake and explored for about an hour. It was one of the only hikes in the area that was clear of snow or so they told us at the Verlot Ranger Station. (Can we just say that in a sea of really bad architecture in that area, the Verlot station is positively cute?)

One thing that really stood out for us on this hike was the different types of flora we saw during the hike and so we’ll make a mention of a few things that we saw and could reasonably identify.

On a Mass of Snow Looking Toward Foggy Peak
Goat Lake

Alnus rubra (Red Alder)
Have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria Frankia that fixes nitrogen and gives a little to the tree and eventually the land – a good thing in nitrogen-deficient soils.
Goat Lake - Alnus rubra

Alnus viridis (Green Alder)
Shrubby cousin to rubra.
Goat Lake - Alnus viridis

Oplopanax horridus (Devil’s Club)
Panax is the genus name for ginseng, a relative to the Devil’s Club. Panax mean “all-heal” in Greek and oplo is the Greek word for weapon. So Devil’s Club is a horrible weapon that heals?
Goat Lake - Oplopanax horridus

Veratrum viride (Indian Hellebore)
Vera “true” + atrum “black” refers to the plant’s dark rhizomes or flowers and viride means green, and the plant is quite green.
Goat Lake - Veratrum viride

Valeriana sitchensis (Sitka Valerian)
We are going to have to go with the Jepson Manual etymology: Valeriana from the Latin for strength for its use in folk medicine or after Valerian, a Roman Emperor.
Goat Lake - Valeriana sitchensis

Thalictrum occidentale (Western Meadow-rue)
Thalictrum is name given by the Greek physician-botanist Dioscorides (circa 40-90 AD), author of Materia Medica a key pharmacological text for sixteen centuries. One source suggests that he derived the word from ‘thaliktron’ which mean a plant with divided leaves. And just when you think you can leave it at that, somewhere, in some corner of the internet you find Medica available (translated naturally) and you feel compelled to check. In Book Four: Other Herbs & Roots, there is a reference to THALIKTRON but there isn’t a clue to why the name was chosen.
Goal Lake - Thalictrum occidentale

Trillium ovatum (Western Trillium)
Always a pleasant site to see.
Goat Lake - Trillium ovatum

Aquilegia formosa (Red Columbine)
The genus Aquilegia name derives from the Latin word ‘aquila’ (eagle) referring to the shape of the flower petals (sepals in this case). Formosa is handsome and that it is.
Goat Lake - Aquilegia formosa

Rubus spectablis (Salmonberry)
The wild cousin of the familiar raspberry. The genus name rubus is said to derive from the Latin word ‘ruber’ meaning red. For the berries or the blood drawn as you try to forage the brambles?
Goat Lake - Rubus spectablis

Lysichiton americanum (Western Skunk Cabbage)
Some of the biggest and stateliest leaves you find in Western Forests. Lysichiton derives from the Greek ‘lysis’ (meaning “a loosening or releasing”) of the ‘chiton’ (meaning “tunic, cloak or cover”) that is the spathe-like bract. [ref].
Goat Lake - Lysichiton americanum