Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Week 7: Loose Catkins, Hungry Clouds & Rampant Worms

The title might suggest that instead of searching for fungi, I have kicked off my wellies, settled on a damp log and munched my way through a paper bag full of hallucinogenic mushrooms. I haven't, I promise (I couldn't find any). All will become clear, I hope.

The loudest voices on Bulbourne Moor, Meadow and Harding's Moor this morning were the Wrens and Great Tits, full of Spring vigour, calling as if their chests would burst! The resident male Sparrowhawk was keeping watch overhead and more than a dozen Magpies patrolled the grounds. The Little Egret was leg-waggling its way along its favourite stretch of the River Bulbourne, by Station Road. And, I also spotted a pair of courting Jays in the little wooded area separating Two Waters Moor (west) from Bulbourne Meadow. The male, I presume, was making subdued, short calls whilst extending his body so as to be as straight as an arrow (the two Jay photographs above are the same bird, calling gently).

A handful of Wild Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) clumps are flowering now on Harding's Moor and Bulbourne Moor. I neglected to mention the single spray of Crocus flowers last week but that has been trampled and has all but disappeared.

In just 12 days, the Common Alder (Alnus glutinous) male flower catkins have loosened and lengthened, enabling the light yellow-green pollen within, to be released into the air. The female flowers are the compact, red, bud-like flowers just out of focus in today's shot.

    21 February 2014
    05 March 2014

There wasn't a puff of wind, making it ideal to photograph the still waters.

The view across Hardings Moor, towards the KD Tower

Too long spent contorting myself into Twister-type positions in order to get Daffodil photographs, meant that by the time I'd walked back to Bulbourne Moor, the clouds had eaten away at the blue sky and were threatening to take over completely. However, I can't seem to resist this tree (left, a species of Willow, I think?) and its reflections.

The next stop was Dellfield and the Oak. Unfortunately, as I arrived, the biggest black cloud imaginable gobbled up the sun and all drama disappeared from the landscape. The photo above (top, left of the Jay) is essentially the one I had in mind for this week, but, I opted for black and white, emphasising texture, as an alternative to the rich colour and contrast presentation that I had envisaged. I’ll have to wait for another blue-sky day for that.

The biggest surprise of the morning was discovering that, in the course of 7 days, Dellfield had been overtaken by RAMPANT WORMS! I don’t mean that in the racy sense (although, who can be sure when dealing with hermaphrodites?!). No, I mean the field is littered with worm casts. Each deposit is less than a foot away from the next and so on....everywhere! It is impossible to avoid them. Apparently, early Spring and Autumn are indeed worm cast highs. Soil temperature and soil air-to-water ratio are such that the worms are active nearer the surface.

I am genuinely chuffed that I get to write about earthworms this week (yes, I am slightly strange). Detritivores are so important to any ecosystem. They consume dead and decomposing plant and animal matter and, in the case of worms, deposit the digested material back into the soil in the form of casts. These are rich in minerals and very fine in texture and, inevitably, improve the quality of the soil. Linking this back to last week’s post, it is the detritivores which enable a developing ecosystem to move from comprising just the weedy plant species (that can survive in nutrient deficient soil), to attracting the more nutrient-hungry grasses and shrubs. Detritivores are a powerful component of natural succession, essential to improving the health of the soil substrate.

Earthworms are largely nocturnal due to being extremely sensitive to ultraviolet light (rather like vampires, although vampires are fictional, of course). However, during very wet weather, they are sometimes forced to the surface to avoid drowning and have to just hope (if worms can do such a thing?!) that they won’t be burned by the sun. Ordinarily, they venture out of their burrows at night and drag fallen leaves and plant debris down into the soil. This is another way in which they improve the structure of the earth they inhabit.

In terms of propagating the worm race, as wikipedia so romantically put it, “sexual reproduction occurs when two worms meet and exchange gametes, copulating on damp nights during warm seasons [I particularly liked that phrase]. Fertilized eggs are protected by a cocoon, which is buried on or near the surface of the ground.”

Eventually, I tore myself away from marvelling at the wonder of worms and glanced up at the tall Limes (I think) on Ryders (the field west of Dellfield). Perched at the top of the tree was a Common Buzzard (right), coincidentally a big fan of worms....for lunch. This seemed like a fitting end to the morning - thoughts had travelled from the soil, to its nutrients, to the beneficial nocturnal worms, to predator buzzards picking said worms out of said soil. The wonder of the food web.

P.S. Do I get a prize for including the words "detritivore" and "vampire" in the same post?

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