Thursday, January 19, 2012

River Wear, Wolsingham


Today's Guardian Country Diary describes a walk along the River Wear at Wolsingham in Weardale. Even though the riverbank woods look bare at this time of year there's always plenty to see along this stretch of river .....
























 ... like the exquisite filigree of cypress-leaved feather moss Thuidium tamariscinum. Many woodland mosses make a lot of fresh new growth during mild spells in winter, when more light can reach them through the leafless branches.


There are often some fine fungi along here too on all the decaying wood - like these velvet shanks.


When we had prolonged heavy rain in Weardale a couple of weeks ago and the river rose very rapidly and flooded its banks. It scoured away all the dead leaves but the dead sweet cicely flower stems - which are chest-high here in summer and smell of aniseed - remained rooted but were flattened by the water, leaving a contour map on he ground of the path of the current as it had swept around the tree trunks.


Above the high water mark of the flood there was still a thick layer of autumn's decaying leaves ...


...... with bluebell leaves already spearing through.



Closer to the river the retreating water had deposited a thick layer of silt, but the buried snowdrops that grow in profusion here early in the year had already forced there way up to the sunlight and started to bloom.
























When the water level falls if leaves behind these dark, temporary pools amongst the alders on the edge of the river. Sometimes there are fish trapped and the local herons are well aware of this - there are always heron footprints around the edges. In the spring toads breed in the pools and then it's a race against time for the tadpoles to develop before the pools dry up.


This stretch of river always has resident dippers and at this time of year they sing a lot, establishing their territory. It's amazing how you can always hear their song above the sound of the river - its pitch must have evolved to penetrate the background noise of the water rushing over a stony riverbed.
























The riverside woodlands are constantly raided by parties of long-tailed tits .....
























nuthatches ......
























..... and treecreepers, all looking for insects in tree bark crevices, while ........


...... this heron, evidently out of luck in the riverside pools, flapped away to try its luck on earthworms in the fields above the river.

14 comments:

  1. A really good walk. I envy you your treecreeper. Elusive little blighters they are.

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    1. They are, aren't hey? Always on the wrong side of the tree and always on the move. There were three in this flock, amongst great tits, blue tits, coal tits and long-tailed tits, plus the nuthatch, but this is the only treecreeper picture I got that was anywhere near presentable...

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  2. Thuidium tamariscinum is one of my very favourite mosses (it's also one of the few I can identify with any certainty). I always end up photographing it even though I know I've got dozens of photos already. Some things are like that aren't they?

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    1. I know what you mean Scriptor Senex, I think it's the attraction of objects of great beauty. I find it difficult to resist taking pictures of some orchids that I've photographed many times already (which used to be an expensive weakness before digital photography came along)

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  3. I always enjoy your walks vicariously. I wonder how you can tell a toad from a frog.

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    1. One difference is that frogs hop but toads crawl lotusleaf. Our toads have very striking orangey- gold eyes too - pictures at http://cabinetofcuriosities-greenfingers.blogspot.com/search/label/Toads

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  4. What a lovely walk, with added birds too, lovely. You have a good selection there.

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    1. Quite a few things escaped me toffeeapple, including a couple of goosander that spotted me before I spotted them. There was also an elusive great spotted woodpecker that gave me the slip....

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  5. Briliant winter walking territory - woods and water. I remember seeing dippers at Wolsingham but not hearing one.
    Here's a link to an rspb dipper soundtrack.

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    1. Thanks Rob, I believe they are related to wrens and the song has some similarities. I think I may have some photos of you along the river there, taken about 30 years ago....

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  6. I've walked this area a couple of times in spring when it's flora is at it's best. A wonderful walk.
    Treecreepers are one of my favorite species of bird, with that cryptic plumage on the upperside making for wonderful camouflage against the bark of trees, and yet unmistakeable when the white underside is seen. They are surprisingly approachable birds. I remember standing next to a tree and the Treecreeper just treating me as part of the tree. Great birds to watch. Dipper is another favorite Cheers.

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    1. Hi Brian, it does have an interesting flora. Many years ago the late Tom Dunn showed me where Solomon's seal and wolf'sbane grow along this stretch of river. Sometimes Lilium pyrenaicum shows up there too. All garden escapes that must have been washed down the river by floods.Totally agree about treecreepers and dippers. all the best, Phil

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  7. been a reader of your blog for a year or so .absolutely love it..and as a keen walker have often followed in your footsteps looking forward to trying Wolsingham now

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    1. Thanks for the kind words senior. It's a really good walk in spring ..... if you have got the energy you can go on up through Black Banks Plantation (where herons nest) and then come back down Wear Bank into Wolsingham. The heathland at the far side of the plantation used to be a good place to see cuckoos in spring.

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