Monday, 17 February 2014

Spring on hold

Phenological data suggest that spring is getting a little earlier each year but nevertheless, as I set out for a walk earlier today, I wasn't expecting to see any dramatic changes - and my non-expectations proved to be correct.

Yesterday I was tied up with a number of commitments. So the sun shone and the wind dropped to give a glorious day. Today I was free to get out - and the sky was unremittingly grey with a rather chilly wind. But was I bovvered? 
The lichen Amandinea punctata.
Byfield Pocket Park, 17 February, 2014

I set out through the Pocket Park, noting that discarded Coke cans were about the only colourful feature of the area but I paused to photograph a lichen on a sycamore tree trunk. It was Amandinea punctata, a common species found throughout Britain.

I could have spend a good deal of time photographing lichens but resisted the urge, partly because they are of little interest to most people but also because their correct identification can be very time consuming, necessitating the use of various chemicals such as potassium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite, paraphenylenediamine, iodine, nitric acid and lactophenol - only some of which I have to hand. 
Lichens near Byfield sewage treatment plant.
17 February, 2014

Fortunately some lichens are distinctive and one soon becomes familiar with the commoner ones. A thin fallen branch bore a nice patch of Parmotrema reticulatum with, inevitably, Xanthoria parietina. The Parmotrema is the bluish lichen to the left with the yellow Xanthoria to its right. 

Parmotrema reticulatum in more detail.
17 February, 2014

Beyond Byfield's sewage treatment plant I left the public right-of-way and followed a stream, a tributary of the Cherwell, heading towards Woodford Halse. The ground was treacherous with sticky mud and at one point I slipped and almost fell.  A Green Woodpecker crossed an adjacent field with characteristic undulating flight, its slightly insane laugh almost mocking me. 

Tumbling stream between Byfield and Woodford Halse.
17 February, 2014

The stream is often little more than a trickle but, although indications suggested that the water had subsided a lot in the last 36 hours, it was still flowing strongly.

Hawthorn still laden with fruit.
Nr Byfield, 17 February, 2014

The bird-feeder in my garden has received few visits recently and it is clear that there is plenty of natural food available in the open countryside. I found this hawthorn still heavily laden with fruit.

Buds were swelling on some of the hawthorn bushes whilst on elders some leaves were already showing. For most plants however it was a question of waiting. 

Rosette of Spear Thistle nr Byfield.
17 February, 2014

Among those waiting is Spear Thistle, Cirsium vulgareThe rosettes of this biennial herb are now well developed; with rising temperatures and increasing day-length they will sent their flowering stems soaring up to as much as 150 centimetres. Copious droppings showed a good population of rabbits in the area but this thistle is safe!

Common Field Speedwell, Veronica persica.
Arable fields nr Byfiels, 17 February, 2014
The chilly, muddy conditions did not deter Common Field Speedwell, Veronica persica from flowering with some freedom. The plant has a bitter taste and may be mildly toxic (some American species have been under suspicion of poisoning dogs). So, for a different reason, it too seems safe from rabbits. It is an introduced plant, first recorded in 1825, but is now abundant everywhere.

My rather circular walk was taking me back towards Byfield. As I approached the village violets were in bloom.

Sweet Violet in flower at the edge of Byfield.
17 February, 2014

Despite the chilly conditions a pleasant fragrance could be detected. This, and the almost blunt sepals, showed that it was Sweet Violet, Viola odorata. The proximity to the village suggested that it was a garden escape although the species does grow wild hereabouts.

Erophila verna on a wall. Church Street
Byfield.  17 February, 2014
My walk was almost over but a sandstone wall in Church Street bore a few plants of Common Whitlow-grass, Erophila verna. Rather obviously it is not a grass at all but a tiny member of the Cabbage Family. Some of the plants were small enough to be completely covered by a ten-pence coin but were nevertheless in full flower and with ripening capsules of seeds. Each flower has only four petals, but each is deeply split to create the impression of eight.

So, hardly a wildly exciting morning but it was better than house re-decorating so, after days of slapping emulsion on walls, it was good to get some clean air into my lungs (notwithstanding the sewage works!). 

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