If you think you may have sensitive records regarding any animal or plant sightings please email us (address in the "Welcome" page) before posting on the Blog. We will pass all details in confidence to the relevant Recorder.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

October's Talk and Indoor Meeting

If you are a gardener you will be perhaps taking stock on how well it did this year. This talk will help you to make decisions to improve your plantings if they could be better for the bees and other nectar-loving insects next spring and summer.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Hares, Short-eared owls, Twite and more...

The rather dismal, rainy start to Sunday September 16th culminated in a glorious evening while we were walking the area round Gorple reservoir. We were treated to the sight of  Short-eared owls (we counted four in total), which circled above fields of hares (at least 6!), rabbits, pheasant and grouse. Driving back along Edge Lane, we were lucky enough to see a flock of perhaps 20 Twite which landed briefly on a disused Delph. More about that later from Steve Blacksmith. For me, the joint highlights were the hares - I have never seen so many all in one go! - and the sight of those magnificent owls, their wings flashing a pure, bright white in the afternoon sun.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Autumn Crocus, a quick visit.

The number of the Autumn crocus, Crocus nudiflorus, blossoms in St John's graveyard at Bradshaw is 129. This one of my best totals for this site. The hot dry summer has not had any visible effect on these plants.


That's excellent Bruce, thanks for checking.

If anyone wants to see them, they are on the downhill side of Bradshaw Churchyard, along the perimeter wall under a row of trees.

TOUR OF SITES Sat 22nd September

There's an Autumn Crocus trip, consisting of short walks to see them along the riverbanks with short drives between, in the Copley and Ryburn Valleys on 22nd September. Meet PS and SB at Hollas Lane, Copley at 10.30am HX3 0UW.  If you are with us all day, bring a packed lunch.

This was taken last year of the colony at Strines Beck, Bradshaw/Holdsworth,  by Annie Honjo.  Julian Birkhead another of our members is in the picture.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Unusual Grass species

I looked at the Incredible Edible raised beds in Todmorden railway station car park. There was some Sweetcorn but then a tall annual grass at the front looked of more interest. It was Cockspur grass, Echinochloa crus-galli, which flowers very late in the season and often in October.

The last time I saw it was Todmorden park in October 2010, a large stand of it occupying the lake of flood water. Cockspur originates from tropical Asia and Africa; in the paddy fields of the far east it is a real pest.

Cockspur grass is considered one of the world's worst weeds and can remove as much as 80% of the available soil nitrogen. Accidently introduced to many countries where it has become invasive but in the Calder Valley is rarely seen

Some varieties of Cockspur are grown for their edible seeds and young shoots, so it would be interesting to know whether Incredible Edible knowingly planted this grass or if it just 'popped up'.

UPDATE: Incredible Edible have said they didn't plant it. Good record then for this casual. It probably won't appear next year, so see it while you can if passing that way.

                                                                 Cockspur Grass

Close up of a raceme branch showing rigid hairs on the spikelets

In the 'paddy fields' of Todmorden Park 2010

Thursday, 6 September 2018

This Month's Talk

After the event: Andy brought us a fascinating talk, with plenty of hard science for the initiated, and interesting anecdotes to whet the appetites of beginners to fungus identification and surveying. We were interested to learn that the fields at High Greenwood, part of the National Trust Estate, are ranked very highly, in fact fourth in England for their score in fungus biodiversity

Our National Trust contact Natalie Pownall  invited us to a couple of events coming up:

  Woodland by night, wildlife watch at Hardcastle Crags. Here’s the link to the website. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events/98b62237-587d-4377-b581-361f4e35f5fc/pages/details or https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardcastle-crags FREE
Booking available for the night walk on Friday 14th September

-        Wax Cap Workshop study days 4th – 5th October. Meet at Gibson Mill 10am Thursday 4th October for morning training followed by an afternoon identifying wax caps in the field! Friday 5th October meet at Hollin Hall for full day in the field studying wax caps using keys. The aim is to provide training in ID skills and habitat condition assessment in order to enable future “in-house” monitoring of the Hardcastle Crags grasslands. Training and workshop are for interested parties able to commit to surveying wax caps at Hardcastle Crags annually thereafter. Maximum 25 people. Booking required via Natalie.Pownall@nationaltrust.org.uk

Sunday, 26 August 2018

A Walk in the Crags

"The Crags" is our local shorthand for Hardcastle Crags, a National Trust nature reserve, not to be confused with Cragg Vale, which is a valley near Mytholmroyd. (note the spelling of "the Crags" and Cragg Vale.)

Tawny Grisette
Apparently edible and good, but best not eaten, as confusion with other deadly Amanitas is possible

 As above

The Crags are the only place we see these mounded nests of Northern Hairy Wood Ant. They use only dead conifer needles to build the nests on the ground, and a close look reveals a seething mass of busy ants keeping it in good order, with ventilation holes here and there. Green Woodpeckers often dig in to the mounds to get their favourite food of ants; this perfect one perhaps indicates a low population of woodpeckers at the moment. 

There were a couple of trees, both larches, with a crowd of these - up to 50-odd round each tree. I wasn't sure of the identity, but a Rumanian gentleman we met whose wife was photographing flowers thought it was False Chanterelle, which I could confirm with the book at home. I should really take the book to the fungus, not the fungus to the book!

As above, it has the typical mushroom gills, where a true Chanterelle has simple ridges nearly to the bottom of the stem.

Chanterelle also has a fruity smell, and this one doesn't.

Edible but not worthwhile the book says. 

Boletus luridus, I believe, from the netted pattern on the stem, and the blue staining. Sorry - I can't find a common name for this. We found it already knocked over or I wouldn't have picked it. Pores instead of gills.

the cap of the above

Alder Tongue, found at Sowerby beside the Calder. Also seen at Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve. It's a fungus that inhabits the tree's tissues, and fruits out of the tree's own fruits. So it's a gall- forming fungus.  Also below.

Robin's Pincushion, a gall found only on wild rose. This was at the other end of Calderdale, in the Anchor Pit Lock area beside the canal

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Luddenden Dean and Midgley Moor, 20th August 2018

Not many birds about on a walk taking in the Dean and the Moor, but quite good for insects.  Best butterfly was a wall below Crow Hill, also small copper, speckled wood and a fox moth caterpillar. Plenty of hover-flies too when the sun came out, including, Cheilosia illustrata, Leucozona glaucia and Scaeva selenitica.
                                            Speckled wood
                                            Cheilosia illustrata
                                            Scaeva selenitica
                                            Fox moth caterpillar
                                            Leucozona glaucia and small copper below

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Norland Moor Draft Management Plan - have your say!

The Draft 2018 –2028 Management Plan for Norland Moor is now available for public consultation.
Download from the Council website, search ‘Norland moor’, or find it at:- www.calderdale.gov.uk/v2/residents/leisure-and-culture/parks-and-open-spaces/nature-reserves/norland-moor  For more information, please contact countryside@calderdale.gov.uk or phone 01422 284415.  The consultation ends on the 5th October.  We welcome your comments and look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,
Calderdale Countryside and Woodlands Team,
Public Services Directorate,
Calderdale MBC,
Spring Hall Mansions,
Huddersfield Road,
West Yorkshire,
Telephone 01422 284415

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Tuesday 14th August - Calderdale's lost Cornfields and the changes in wildlife 7.15 Imperial Crown Hotel, Horton St.

Yellowhammer by Dave Sutcliffe

Tonight's wildlife talk proposes more changes to Calderdale's agriculture to hopefully help birds like this, and the Twite, so recently seen in good numbers locally.

Non-members welcome. Donations accepted at the membership desk.

Sunday, 12 August 2018


A flightless female moth on the path this evening which I may have disturbed while gardening. I watched this one climb a dead leaf, perhaps to attract a mate. They have only vestigial wings so stay put and allow the males to find them by pumping out pheromones. I think I've heard that a male can detect even a single pheromone molecule with his antennae.Went out to look at 9.30pm but she was still alone.
Can anyone give a solid ID? Perhaps the vapourer moth Orgyia antiqua?

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Rishworth Moor, 11th August 2018

Whilst looking for flints at Green Withins, there were quite a few black darters (and common hawkers) about.

Thursday, 9 August 2018


Darnel, also known as Cheat, is a grass (Lolium temulentum) now extinct in this country but before modern cleaning of seeds was a very common weed in cereal crops. It is very similar to wheat and cannot be easily told apart until the grass produces seeds. The toxin is contained in the seed and is a narcotic alkaloid--a nerve poison.

It has long been known for its poisonous qualities and is believed to be the Tares mentioned in the Bible. The Romans said it caused blindness; "Lolio victitare" (to live on Darnel) was a phrase applied to a dim-sighted person.

It causes symptoms of drunkenness, trembling, inability to walk, hindered speech and vomiting. For this reason the French called the grass 'Ivraie',  meaning drunkenness, which we anglised into Rie or Rye grass (not the same species but looks similar). The word Darnel is also of French origin and means stupified.

In 1861 a Sheffield workhouse had 80 inmates affected after eating oatmeal containing Darnel.

England's only native mediaeval heresy, Lollardy, is believed to be named after this plant.

You can still see this grass if you go to Alnwick Castle gardens and enter the poison plants  enclosure, the gate will be locked whilst you are inside.

Eating bread in former times was a risky business with the chance of being poisoned by Darnel or Ergot. If that didn't happen your teeth were ground away by the coarse sand and grit in the flour from using grindstones. The titles of Lord and Lady come from old English words for loaf keeper and loaf kneader.

                                          Darnel at Alnwick Castle poisonous plant garden

Saturday, 4 August 2018

HSS walk points to a horrible history

On the HSS walk today we found a grass flower with hard black spurs protruding. This insignificant spur is the Ergot fungus (Claviceps purpurea) which has a long and unpleasant history. Its relationship with the grass family goes back at least 100 million years, when found in an amber fossil.

Settle down with a cup of tea and I will tell the story of the collapse of civilisations, death and derangement; all through eating a slice of bread and jam.

It all begins with Rye, Secale cereale (not to be confused with the Rye grass used for silage). It was a weed grain and occurred wherever Wheat was cultivated; they were inseparable. Rye itself was not cultivated for food until about the 5thC AD, in Eastern Europe, and was the last of the popular cereals to be brought into cultivation. 

But the danger with Rye is its propensity to be infected with the Ergot fungus and it was in the Rhine Valley in 857 A.D that the first major outbreak of gangrenous ergotism was documented. The symptoms were called 'Holy Fire'  because of the burning sensations in the extremities of the body and it being seen as a punishment from God.

The alkaloids produced by the fungus can affect every part of the body, including the nervous system. Bread containing only 2% Ergot can cause an epidemic and result in gangrene, where victims lose fingers, toes and limbs. This is due to the alkaloid producing a vaso-constrictive chemical which cuts off the blood supply. The toxins can pass through a mother's milk and poison the baby. Former sufferers are more prone to the symptoms when next affected. The alkaloids are very stable and do not break down during baking or with boiling for up to 3 hours.

The mortality rate could approach 50% and the great population declines in history can be explained when it is known poisoning causes abortions.

In 1039, an outbreak of Ergotism occurred in France. During this outbreak a hospital was erected by Gaston de la Valloire to care for the victims. He dedicated this hospital to St. Anthony and through this gesture, Holy Fire came to be called St. Anthony's Fire. Monks would eventually start the order of St. Anthony and over 370 hospitals were built; each one symbolically painted red.

France was the centre for many of these severe epidemics because Rye was the staple crop of the poor and the cool wet climate conducive for the development of the fungus. In 944 AD in Southern France, 40,000 people died as a result of Ergot. 

It  was not until 1670 that a French physician, Dr. Thuiller, put forth the concept that it was not an infectious disease but one that was due to the consumption of Rye infected with Ergot, or what the French farmers called Cockspurs. Thuiller knew the "cockspurs" had been used by alchemists in their potions to hasten childbirth but he could not convince farmers these were the cause of this dreaded disease.

In 1853, Louis Tulasne, an early mycologist and illustrator, worked out the life cycle for the Ergot of Rye and concluded that it was a fungus and this, not the Rye, was the culprit.

If you wish to read more, including frightening historic accounts of the effects of this fungus, I may oblige.