Sunday, March 27, 2011

Early Spring on the Durham Coast

One of the pleasures of living in a county like Durham, whose topography stretches from sea-level on the coast to the high Pennine hills that form the backbone of England is that you can extend the pleasures of spring. Today these primroses were in full flower on the edge of the sea cliffs just south of Seaham but it will be anything up to a month before the same species reaches this stage of development in the more exposed parts of Upper Weardale - offering opportunities for enjoying them over an extended period.

These violets were in bloom a little further along the cliff edge. I think this is hairy violet Viola hirta because I couldn't retect any scent, although you can never discount the possibility of the presence of sweet violet V. odorata genes, as these two early-flowering species hybridise.

Sunday's sunshine brought out the gorse flowers on the cliffs, with their distinctive aroma of coconut.

There were hundreds of coltsfoot blooms in the grass on the cliffs. The leaves won't appear for a couple of weeks, only expanding after the blooms begin to fade. The plant spreads via a creeping underground rhizome, so when you see a fine display of coltsfoot flowers covering a large area, to appreciate the full extent of the plant you need to imagine the network of underground rhizomes that connect them all together.

The flower buds of blackthorn (sloe) on the cliffs were on the point of bursting but I had to look hard to find one that had opened...

 This is a stonechat, perched on the thorn scrub and in fine voice, and ......

.... here's another, in handsome breeding plumage. 

When I turned over one of the limestone boulders down on the beach at Hawthorn Hive I found a family of pill bugs Armidillidium vulgare.

 When they find themselves threatened these little armoured crustaceans have a neat trick......

They curl themslves up.... 

....into an almost perfect armoured sphere and simply roll away into the grass....


  1. Phil, Great blog! I've just found you via your gardening article on the Beeb website. It's a long time since I lived in the North East, so to see places that I once knew, and the wildlife that goes with them, is a special treat. Many thanks. Regards, Graeme

  2. Those Pill Bugs were looking very smart Phil. You can see where some of the sci fi ideas come from.
    Are all your images taken with your macro lens? If so, can't remember what it is. Can you refresh my memory as to the model Are you a Canon or Nickoff..........or neither.

  3. Hi Graeme, thanks for visiting and for the kind comments.

  4. Hi John, almost all the close-ups I take are with a little pocket camera called a Pentax W20. It's a bit long in the tooth now (and has been superceded by newer models with more bells and whistles but a much shorter battery life) but it's undoubtedly the most useful camera I've ever owned. It's waterprrof (designed for canoeists, climbers, surfers and similar outdoor types) so it's fine for photographing things like toads underwater - and it focusses down to 1cm. Sometimes it's a bit hit-and-miss but I've been using it for so long now that I have a pretty good idea about how to play to its capabilities and minimise its limitations. I use an old Nikon D70 for anything that requires a long lens - keep telling myself I'll update it but can't really justify the expense. Cheers, Phil

  5. good to see a few more Stonechats have made it through all the snows....

    ( Phil, both the images seem to show dark headed cock birds )

  6. Definitely plenty to observe now Spring has finally arrived. I am always surprised just how many pill bugs can fit in the smallest of spaces.

  7. Thanks Stevie, hadn't noticed that - my bird ID isn't so hot. Cheers, Phil

  8. Hi John, there can't have been much space under the rock where these were hiding!

  9. Hi Phil. Just caught up with this excellent posting. I've not heard of them being called Pill Bugs before - had to check that this is what I know as a Woodlouse. I see that it is, and possibly this is a north-south divide thing with the name. I have seen a note that, in the north, these tend to be confined to coastal regions. We get loads of them in our garden in the Midlands, and I don't think that there is anywhere much further from the sea in UK than our garden!!

    Keep up the good work!!

  10. Hi Richard, I think there's a host of regional names for woodlice and their relatives! I found Armadillidium when I was out walking this lunchtime, a long way from the coast, so they may well be quite widespread.... all the best, Phil

  11. There I was, idly listening to some chap chatting away on the radio about his garden in the changing seasons, when I was jolted by the sound of your name.
    The word "ubiquitous" comes to mind!

    Great programme, Phil - keep it up.

  12. Thanks Steve, I had a lot of fun recording it!


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