This Blog covers nature sightings and related news in the Calderdale area.
It includes all groups - Plants, animals and fungi with links to specialist sites.
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Thursday, 29 October 2015

I inadvertently grew some garden bird food.

Quinoa, (pronounced Keenwa or Kwinowa)

I've occasionally been given this seed by friends with adventurous cooking habits. It's used like rice or couscous, but is much more nutritious, providing vitamins and protein as well as carbohydrates. It has a bland, slightly nutty flavour.

I thought it might grow in the Pennines, being a native crop of cool highlands in South America, so I bought a packet of cooking Quinoa and sowed a few of the seeds.

They shot up! I guess you can use the leaves as greens, as the plant is in Amaranthaceae, same as beetroot, spinach, and the wild plants Good King Henry, Fat Hen and Goosefoot, all of which have edible leaves.

A tragic consequence of it becoming a "wonder food" in the west is that some poor farmers in South America can no longer afford to eat their crop, or they think they can't, as it raises more cash for them than the cost of imported rice, which is far less nutritious.

If anybody wants some seeds, I've got loads left.

I only got round to cooking one head while it was fat and fresh and moist. I steamed it as a whole sprig over some potatoes I was boiling. It was good, eaten straight off the stem, which stayed behind like the core of a corn-on-the-cob, only branched. I got my little crop after a mid-summer sowing.

I thought I'd leave the others to fully ripen, then dry the seeds off to keep through the winter, but the birds soon realised there was something full of goodness there. First I noticed a Dunnock perched  on the plants, pecking in to it, then the Robin, true to character, sent it off and started pecking itself.

Since then I've been informed it has been grown on a large scale in this country, but only as a fallow-land crop. If anyone knew of any little corners with fairly rich, disturbed soil, it might be worth sowing it in summer as a winter bird food. In gardens it would save buying a lot of expensive wild bird food.

To aid birds on a wider scale, it could be planted in odd corners of fields or muck-heaps where it might benefit House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows,Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings and lots of other seed eaters. Some would say the native seeding plants are best, which I would agree with in an area of arable farming, but here most fields are kept as lush, wildlife-unfriendly grassland.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Further Fungus/ Botanical Foraying

Next weekend, on Sunday 25th October, we are meeting for another fungus/botany foray to the Holywell Green area. We will pass near the Deer Farm which has a big herd of Sika Deer. In Autumn it is the rut, and there is a chance of seeing some antler-locking stags, and hearing their roaring. Buzzards are regularly heard and seen in fine weather. Feel free to come along. No charge but small donations help with HSS funds.

The Foray starts at 10.30 for 10.45. Meet in West Vale.
Take the Stainland Rd from the Calder and Hebble road junction. 
Go straight on through both sets of lights in West Vale. 
Pass one pub on the left, then a second (the Queen), and pass under a high railway viaduct.
Park or meet on the left just opposite the entrance to the industrial estate.

I will have two spare seats from Halifax town centre, leaving at 10.15.

The walk will be through woodland, along stony tracks and fields, some of them steep. Bring a packed lunch and something waterproof to sit on. Children and dogs welcome. Some lanes with traffic may be unavoidable.

Blackening Waxcap last year at Saville Park.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Monthly Outdoor Meeting of Halifax Scientific Society

The meeting this month was a fungus foray in Stoodley Glen, which took place today. Sundays are sometimes chosen to give people who can't attend on a Saturday a chance to join in. There was also a waxcap identification session in the fields at Broadhead Clough last Friday 16th Oct, when Kara Jackson of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust brought along laminated keys to hand out, but I wasn't able to attend that one.

Sunday was a calm but dull day letting the changing colours of the trees smoulder through.

It really starts as you pull out of Luddenden Foot on the way to Mytholmroyd - a truly breathtakingly beautiful valley, wide spreading, with seemingly 50% each of mature deciduous trees and open fields.

The Stoodley Glen itself is wooded at the bottom end after you cross the river and then the canal, the latter dark and glassy, with dry leaves floating that parachute gently from the trees.

The woodland is "greenwood" as I wrote about in last Thursday's Hebden Bridge Times. Occasional grazing prevents understorey shrubs and saplings springing up. So it is open and grassy.

Higher up as you walk past all the little waterfalls you come out onto wide sheep-grazed fields; this is where the blue Harebells, still flowering today, and the waxcap fungi start.

The view looking back with distant Todmorden in the centre was stunning, with fields and moorland hills and valleys decorated with trees, near and far, in every shade of green, yellow, brown, orange and bronze. There was a strange light, as Annie pointed out, with brooding shade over the higher land, and Todmorden bathed in a gentle, not quite bright glow.
      Stoodley Pike above us seemed strangely animated; slipping in and out of the mist.

      It was a good day for a fungus foray.

We don't collect baskets full, not even the ones we know are good to eat. Our aim is to enjoy seeing and if possible identifying them. The complete list, not ignoring the common ones, is part of an ongoing survey, which when added to the records over many decades, should give an objective measure of fungus diversity and its changes in our area.

The best finds of the day for me were Elfin Saddle Helvella lacunosa and a Coral, possibly Crested Coral, Clavulina coralloides, attacked by another fungus, turning it grey. Also the bright Yellow Brain fungus, Tremella mesenterica. The most numerous was Amethyst Deceiver, as usual, closely followed by it buffish relative, The Deceiver.

Elfin Saddle beside the track in Stoodley Glen.

The little group of native Crab-apples was fruiting well at the top of the glen, with larger fruits than some years. I pocketed a few  as they grow easily from the pips, but I never see them self-seeding. Their partner animal that evolved to spread the seed in its dung, as well as maybe breaking the turf to give them somewhere to germinate, must be one of the extinct fauna. A male Reed Bunting was nearby.

Our complete Stoodley Glen fungus list for today can be read by clicking on "Calderdale Fungi" at the top.

As we finished in good time, we all drove to Hippins Clough on the other side of the Calder Valley, to search for the Violet Coral, Clavaria zollingeri, but didn't find it. However we did explore further along the valley-side than I had been before, to an area with an ancient wall built of huge wallstones, and an area of boulders including one as big as a small bungalow with a flat top you can easily climb up on to.

Near here was a colony of suckering Blackthorn, some of them so old they made small trees.

We put up two Common Snipe and saw a group of 11 Mistle Thrushes on some wires, oddly accompanied by one Redwing and one Goldfinch. We saw a dead Common Shrew lying on the turf.

Next weekend, on Sunday 25th October, we are meeting for another fungus/botany foray to the Holywell Green area. Feel free to come along.

The Foray starts at 10.30 for 10.45. Meet in West Vale.
Take the Stainland Rd from the Calder and Hebble road junction. 
Go straight on through both sets of lights in West Vale. 
Pass one pub on the left, then a second (the Queen), and pass under a high railway viaduct.
Park or meet on the left just opposite the entrance to the industrial estate.

I will have two spare seats from Halifax town centre, leaving at 10.15.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Talk by Dr Mark Avery,Impact of Driven Grouse Shooting

There is a talk by Dr Mark Avery ,on the impact of Driven Grouse Shooting on our Uplands and Wildlife ,tomorrow Wed 14 Oct.It is free admission at 7 30 at the Trades Club Hebden Bridge.He was the former Conservation Director for the RSPB for 13 Years,He is the Author of Inglorious ,Conflict in the Uplands .and started the Petition to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting,which is a really important issue for us in Calderdale.

Sunday, 11 October 2015


I have never seen a glow-worm larvae before, but here is a photo taken in Borrowdale in the Lake district a few days ago in the company of Ancient Tree Forum members. We were visiting the Borrowdale Yew trees, the 'Fraternal Four' made famous by Wordsworth, although the fourth blew down many years ago and is now rotting on the ground.

The remaining Yews have been dated to at least 1,500 years old and Keith Alexander the National Coleoptera recorder found this Glow-Worm larvae on a section of rotting bark.

We also looked at many of the ancient Ash pollards dotted about the landscape, most of which are many hundreds of years old and were the working trees for generations of people. The National Trust continues the essential pollarding of these on a regular cycle and hope that Ash disease will not destroy them all. Pollarding, done correctly, does not kill trees but prolongs their life span way beyond the natural life cycle. A truly sustainable practice that benefits people and wildlife and creates a historic landscape.

                                            Glow-Worm larvae


                                        Borrowdale Yew tree

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Aurora borealis update 07 10 2015

At the moment 17.00,there is some Minor Aurora Activity,yellow alert,it is still rising,we need kp 7 red alert really to see it locally,with clear skies ,I will try and update this info as the night progresses,fingers crossed,regards Brian.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Autumn Crocus (Crocus nudiflorus) now flowering in Calderdale till mid-October.

These are widespread but elusive in Calderdale. My good friend Howard Owen has just spotted a new colony in a field off Green Lane in Soyland, though this might be the one mentioned in the old records as being "Behind Making Place, Soyland".

The previous survey in 1950 had 23 sites in Calderdale, but we now have a list of 42. Sadly this is partly because some of the biggest colonies are much reduced and fragmented.

It was brought from the Pyrenees in the middle ages it seems, possibly as a source of saffron, but this isn't directly documented. There is a possible reference to them in a medieval will to "my heads of crocuses" which indicates a high value. Crocus vernus, another European crocus which flowers in spring has been mentioned as a source of saffron, though the true Saffron Crocus is Crocus sativa. This is still cultivated in Norfolk. See "Norfolk Saffron" on line. Saffron Crocus is probably not viable as a crop in the Pennines, though Crocus nudiflorus, coming from the plateux of the Pyrenees, does well. It has much smaller "threads" though, (the stigma that are the saffron.)

Many of the spots we see it are close to places with St. John in the name, and some are near Holdsworth House, Bradshaw, where there is a Maltese Cross on the gable, showing a connection with the Knights of St. John, the Knights Hospitallers. 

They grow in many different places, often in fields, and often on river banks well away from gardens. They thrive at 300 metres at Cold Edge near the Ovenden Wind Farm, and right down near Cromwell Bottom Nature reserve, near Park Nook Lock, on the bank of the Calder. Strangely, all the river bank sites are on the left banks - on the Calder, the Ryburn and the Hebble. It is even found among mature deciduous trees. It is fascinating to think that they were probably there before the trees.

There is a longer version of this and a list of sites in my booklet "The Mystery of the Autumn Crocus" (2010) available now. (See panel on the left.) Also from me personally £5.00 
or £6.00 including postage. The £5.00 goes to Halifax Scientific Society. A copy comes free with membership which is £15.00 a year.

N.B. there is a cofusion-species in the Meadow Saffron, Colchicum autumnale, which has nothing to do with saffron, and is poisonous. It's a lily-relative and therefore has a flower full of stamens, six in number, whereas the crocuses have just three club-shaped stamens around the feathery stigma. Catch them on a sunny day to see this easily. Beware that garden centres sell Colchicum bulbs as "Autumn Crocus". They do have a superficial resemblance.

Autumn Crocuses on the plateau above Foix in the Ariege district of the French Pyrenees. Free-range cattle with cow-bells and horses keep the grass short but leave the crocuses.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Todmorden Crocus nudiflorus

It is a good year for them in the Halifax area.

There is just one showing in this picture in Centre Vale Park. (Recognise the Bandstand?) Click the picture to enlarge.

There were more on this bank, but they were getting crushed by football spectators, so myself, Phillip Marshall, Linda Kingsnorth and others moved most of them to the wild flower area to the left of the bandstand (looking in).

There was also a small colony in a field above Bacup Rd. which Portia reported to me, and I found in about 2008.

I am going to check these 2 colonies this evening Friday if anyone wants to join me. (Sorry for the short notice.) Meet at the park gates nearest the cricket ground at 6.00pm.

No one recently has seen them at Great House near Cross Stones. The fields are much altered with artificial fertilisers, but they could still be there. These location details are all I have.