Monday 20 July 2009

Creeping thing(s) that creepeth upon the earth . . .

Walking the dogs is never quite straightforward. Much as I would love simply to set off into the wide blue yonder there are things we must make sure we take with us - leads for the boys in case we meet other dogs (Frodo the Faller is my champion, Buddy Liver Spots can't see who or what is there . . . ) back wheels for Dominie, the old lady, ball and flinger and transmitter collar and receiver for Jenna-the-Labrador, walking poles, hat, sunglasses, belt with bungee to tow Dominie up the slopes and out of the ponds for Barry, and for me a belt bag with spare balls, tissues, keys, sometimes dog treats and now, nearly every time, my Canon Ixus 980. Sometimes we take video cameras, larger cameras with telephoto lenses, telescopes, binoculars, folding stools, vacuum flasks of tea; we sit and watch and breathe in God's good air while the Dalmatians pace about not far from us and Jenna chases tirelessly after a ball. If she chances on fresh deer tracks she may disappear, ball in mouth, for anything up to forty minutes. When she returns, tongue lolling, she scampers up to us as if there's nothing amiss, looking at me to throw her another ball, having lost hers in the deer chase. Happily, these jaunts are becoming less common as she grows older and wiser (crossing fingers and toes here that I'm not tempting Providence . . . )
Barry is the Dominie-hauler so it falls to me to be the ball-lobber and dog lead carrier. As I am right-handed that is the one I use for pitching. My camera is carried in my left hand ready to capture passing deer or ducks. I know it is only a matter of time before I fling the camera and take photos with the ball-tosser!
The other day, on the homeward part of our walk, with three of the dogs in varying states of dampness (Buddy only goes in water if we accompany him – otherwise he goes to great pains to avoid getting even his feet wet) I stopped to take some photographs. In my quest – or should that be zest? – to overcome the paucity of my botanical knowledge I took photos of the flowers of Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) which were developing their seed heads. (I identified the plant later.) The flowers are most attractive to butterflies which will pollinate closely neighbouring male and female thistles.
Seeds are not the sole form of reproduction because the plant also spreads through its creeping root system from which new plants will grow some distance from the parent. This habit makes it a troublesome weed for farmers and gardeners as it is resistant to weed killer and very difficult to dig up.
I also photographed 'some grass'. I later identified it as Creeping Soft Grass or Creeping Velvet Grass (Holcus mollis) a common and widespread native of Europe and western Asia. It sends out roots which may extend to 100' (30m) in length within a square foot of soil.
I noticed a multitude of common red soldier beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) disporting themselves on the thistles and the grass. These beetles are very common in Europe and Anatolia (Asia Minor) and are sometimes called blood suckers because of their colouring though they do not suck blood. They are diurnal and prey on small insects on flowers. Because they are often to be found mating on umbellifer heads they are also known as 'hogweed bonking beetles'. The larvae live in soil and hunt for snails and insects. After a year, during which they moult several times, the larvae pupate and then emerge as fully grown beetles.
Now the point is shall I remember all this? I learnt the name of one small plant last year - Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) I picked one flower and pressed it in my Field Guide to British wild flowers. I've just photographed it - it's lost one of its petals - and learnt a little more about it.

In the seventeenth century a decoction of tormentil root was recommended as an analgesic for toothache. In some places it's known as blood root because the roots render a red dye used for colouring cloth. Tormentil roots were also used as an alternative to oak bark in the tanning of leather. The nectar attracts pollinating insects but in wet weather or at night when the petals close up tormentil can be self-pollinating. Amazing information!
I hope that photographing and writing about my small discoveries will help me to expand my woefully inadequate knowledge of the ever-surprising and wonderful natural world.


  1. I came via Shadow Shots but the link didn't work..but this post is so interesting as I love to take a walk and see what I can find to photograph and I didn't know what the soldier beetles did, but I have seen them. One suggestion though. Change your comments setting to pop-up instead of embedded. Many people, like me have a hard time with this type and I think you will get more comments with the pop-up....Michelle

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  3. Mon fils aussi aime observer les insectes, c'est toujours magique et il y en a plein nos jardins! I hope you understand french, it's difficult for me to translate!I sais my son like observing insectes ant there are a lot in our garden so i't's magic to spend time to observ them. i like your blog you have really nice shots.

  4. animauxdecheznous.blogspot.com21 July 2009 at 11:44

    My son likes shotting insectes too We've got a lot to obvserv in our garden and their word is fantastic!
    We will come back to visit your blog
    Bonne journée! Véronique

  5. Merci bien Véronique. C'est si bonne que votre fils aime les insectes et il aime aussi photographie.
    (Excusez-moi, mon francais n'est pas bon!)


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