Monday, 28 January 2008


Last year I decided to bite the bullet and 'get into' mosses. Being in North-west Ireland, we have more rainfall than most areas and mosses are very numerous in every type of environment. The initial phases of moss study are very slow indeed, with a great deal of time being spent hunched over keys and microscopes. Slide preparation takes ages, too, with a low-powered (x 40) microscope being used to make the initial leaf prep, followed by much higher power (x 100 - x 400) for the leaf cell analysis. Having said that, once the initial identifications have been carried out, the mosses themselves are quite easy to identify in the field

Racomitrium lanuginosum grows on rocks and develops a rather grey look as the season progresses:

Pleurozium schreberi is a very attractive, low-growing moss in damp areas. The central stem is distinctly red:It took me quite a while to confirm the id for this one: Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus is said to prefer lime or neutral areas. In fact, I find it everywhere I look. I'm told that it can grow in 'sheltered areas on acid', but this shot is from one of the most exposed places I know. Having repeatedly keyed it out and then rejected the id based on the ecology described in the books, I had to get the id confirmed by a proper bryologist.

The very closely-related Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus is the one very often found in lawns.This is a top-down shot:

If mosses in general seem like a daunting subject, then don't go near Sphagnums. The references are in conflict, and they admit that classification is 'fluid and contradictory'.

Sphagnum squarrosum (I think):
And Sphagnum subnitens - one of the hummock formers:
The green bits growing through the above Sphagnum are new growth of Polytrichum formosum, a very photogenic species that will feature strongly as the season progresses. Eagle-eyes will spot the heather shoots to the top left.

Most of my identification work was carried out in February and March last year. It's a good time of the year for mosses, but some work has to continue later in the year when the fruiting capsules are required to separate some species.

The Philonotis fontana specimens are just pushing their heads above water. It will be a few weeks before they show properly.

Active Ladybirds

I was at a meeting with a customer on Friday and I glanced out of the window. I was surprised to see not one, but two 7-spot ladybirds on two adjacent plants. They were moving rather rapidly on a very cold, blustery day, running all over the leaves looking (presumably) for aphids to eat. I know they overwinter as adults, popping out occasionally if the weather is mild, but Friday was bitterly cold and very windy.
A very pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

2008 - first flower (bud)

Lesser Celandine was actually in bud in December, but the early ones never open fully. The area where the first ones open is under trees in a south-facing stream-bank, so I suppose they're fairly well-sheltered and well-lit at the same time.

Lesser Celandine (which is, of course, a buttercup) is quite useful to me as it hosts a couple of the Uromyces rusts and various Phytomyza leaf-miners, so I can get looking for those very early on. A natural follow-on from the miners is the first appearance of the parasitic wasps - the ichneumonids. These are parasitic on the fly larvae in the mines, but I've often found them exploring the fungal rusts, too. I wonder if they're using the fungal spores as an early food source (I often see flies on tar-spots, etc., so I assume that they get some benefit from them.) That would be a handy self-contained food-web with the plant at the hub: plant hosts fungus; fungus feeds wasp; plant hosts fly; fly hosts wasp:

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Glenullin Bog

Some of you know that I have been awarded the contract to take the photographs for a wildlife booklet based around Glenullin bog in Northern Ireland. Glenullin, which was rescued from peat development, is an important raised bog with a 13m high dome, shown in the following shot:

Most of the red colouration comes from the leaves of Cotton grass, but there's another source of red in the fruit-bodies of this Cladonia lichen:

I'm not sure of the exact species, but I think it's somewhere close to Cladonia macilenta or Cladonia diversa.

I'll be showing more photographs from Glenullin as the season progresses.

This is the view south-west from my bedroom window at 8 o'clock this morning:

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Late or early?

One thing I've noticed since I started recording is that spring and summer flowering plants often have a late second push in autumn, if the weather is warm enough. Many species do this, including: Hogweed, Cow Parsley, Nipplewort, Ragwort, Herb Bennet and Bush Vetch. Other flowering plants seem to flower all-year round, now. These include: Daisy, Dandelion, Sow-thistles, Smooth Hawkbit, Herb Robert and Groundsel. But what do we have when I find a specimen of Hogweed in full flower in January?

Is it early for 2008 or late for 2007? I think the answer is fairly clear: the new stem growth for 2008 hasn't even started yet, so it has to be late for 2007. But what is it trying to do? The pollinating insects are all dead (and won't be back until April/May), so it can't reproduce (and it would be unlikely that there would be another specimen close enough to pollinate anyway). It must be worthwhile, or the plant wouldn't be expending all this energy on making flowerheads. Maybe it's a mechanism whereby it is preparing for all-year round insects as we warm up. What do you think?

Other late-flowering species:

Bush Vetch

Smooth Hawkbit

And just to finish off, a couple of shots of Winter Heliotrope, which only flowers during December and January around here:

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Mongorrey in January

Mongorrey is our highest local point. Here's the view west:

Right in the centre you can see Donegal's highest mountain: Mount Errigal with its top in the clouds.

The area surrounding Mongorrey was extensively planted with Spruce and Fir in the 1950's and the crop is now being harvested. For a period of a few years after the clear-felling takes place, the land tries to revert to its original peat-bog conditions, with the return of plants and insects that haven't been seen there for decades. This will, of course, all change when the newly planted conifers begin to shade the ground again. It's interesting to note that of the 1200 or so species that I recorded in the last 5 years, only around 20 are dependent on coniferous plantation. You can see why I'm not a great fan of these plantations.

The borders of the forestry have fortunately been planted with Beech. That means that at least the access roads have an interesting fauna. The buds of Beech are quite interesting:

Each grey scale hides a new leaf, and the pointed bud stretches quite suddenly, forming new leaves and branches simultaneously. Beech leaves are amongst the last of the new leaves to open, usually in early May.

Here's a fairly unseasonal shot of Bramble flower buds:

Our mild winters are not quite severe enough to kill off these buds any more. Tomorrow I'll show some pictures of other unseasonal flowers.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

A new beginning

I have been the author of Donegal Hedgerow for 5 years, now and I think it's time for a change.

Donegal Hedgerow was a bit of a pioneering site: a daily archive of images of the wildlife around me in Raphoe, Co. Donegal, Ireland. It certainly caused a bit of a stir in wildlife circles, inspiring a number of people to start similar sites, or to work on similar projects. It won a number of awards and led to numerous radio and TV appearances: it is used by universities and schools as the basis for course material.

But I rarely like to stay static for long, and I want to stimulate more dialogue around the images that I show and the stories that I tell.

Hopefully, this blog format will encourage people to comment, argue, offer amendments to identifications, learn, start their own blog and just make the whole thing more interactive.

Anyway, let's get this thing started. Here are a couple of fungal images from the hedgerow ditch:

The first shows three Mycena sp. The largest is about 1cm. across the cap. Most Mycenas can be tricky to identify without microscopic assistance, but as time passes I hope to learn more of them by sight.

The second specimen is Tubaria furfuracea, which is probably associated with Hawthorn. I certainly notice Hawthorn nearby wherever I find it.