Monday, 18 March 2019

Stefen Hill Pocket Park

I have, over the years, produced several blogs about this site but, until recently, it has been known as Stefen Leys Pocket Park. It is under new management and, like Windscale, it would appear that re-branding is required!

I was not expecting many plants to be in flower, nor were there, but some clumps of Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, were very eye-catching against a boundary fence.

Several clumps of coltsfoot were present. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
18 March, 2019
The genus is obviously kin to dandelions, both being members of the huge Asteraceae family, but they are more closely related to Yarrow, Achillea millefolium. The 'flowers' are really a cluster of small blooms gathered into a single head (a capitulum). Coltsfoot flowers are valuable to early bees, although I saw none today. One Scottish dialect name for the plant is 'Tushylucky', presumably a corruption of Pliny's name for the plant, Tussilago. The flowers open before the leaves are present, and the strategy seems very successful.

As is often the case, flowers merit close examination.
A few willows were bearing their flowers. They were Pussy Willows and I am content to regard them as Salix caprea, Goat Willow, although willows are a really tricky group to identify with certainty, with hybrids all-too common. The catkins I photographed are of course the male organs.

Willows can be problematic but this appears to be straightforward
Goat Willow. Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 18 March, 2019
Willows tend to grow in damp places and so 'sympathetic magic' suggested that somehow they should be good for treating chills. An infusion proved to be effective in easing the symptoms for, as is now generally known, the active ingredient of aspirin, salicylic acid, is present.

I couldn't resist photographing the curious male flowers of Ash, Fraxinus excelsior. The anthers resemble - what? Tiny coffee beans perhaps? Although female flowers may have been present I could find none. Ash trees are commonly dioecious,  and it appears that this particular tree is wholly male. When the anthers of these flowers have dehisced to release their pollen they will appear quite different.
Ash trees were displaying their male flowers. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
18 March, 2019

A few flies were about but most of my specimens were spiders. It is unfortunate that those I took have to be put under the microscope for identification, leading to their death, but all were tiny linyphiids and there is no option. What is the point, you may ask? In fact several linyphiids new to Britain have been found in the last decade, with at least one new to science. Now we know of their presence suitable conservation measures can be put in place.

The frogs are back. Several clumps of spawn were present in the pond.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 18 March, 2019

Last year the pocket park lake was drained, cleaned out and refilled. Would this disturbance deter amphibians? I was pleased to find frog spawn there in some quantity. Not, perhaps, as much as in previous years, but the future looks promising.

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