Thursday, 14 February 2013

Ashes to ashes

Last night, I found a newt lying apparently dead on a country lane. I picked it up and it moved a little, so I decided to take it home to check for damage (a car had just passed):

Male Smooth Newt


It seemed ok and survived the night, so I took it up to the local stream and released it there.

The stream runs alongside a country lane that is edged on both sides by Ash trees:

Craigs Road with Ash trees
Given that Chalara fraxinea has been detected not far from here, I rather suspect that these trees won't last much longer (hence the title of this post). This will, of course, be disastrous from the perspective of the trees, but Ash isn't the obligate food source of very many fungi or insects, so the impact on overall biodiversity is not likely to be as bad as it could have been.

The stream runs alongside the right-hand side of the road in the deep shade of the trees, and is a great source of water plants, with numerous liverworts and mosses on the rear wall:

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage with the liverwort Conocephalum conicum
Many of these plants like dark, damp conditions, so I suspect the rear wall flora will be altered until some other trees grow to provide more shade.

The stream is where I always find the first flowering specimens of Lesser Celandine, and a few flowers were just beginning to open:

Lesser Celandine just opening
Just as I was taking the above shots, I heard the unmistakeable deep croak of the Raven. I looked up and saw a pair circling overhead:

Ravens over Craigs Road
They circled and kept me in view for quite a while before flying off west. I managed this shot showing the very distinctive tail:

Raven
At the top of the stream, where it emerges from an underground run, there is a wall that is always good for a few moss shots. This is a back-lit shot of Tortula muralis:

The moss Tortula muralis
I like to think that the setae (the 'stalks' that hold the capsules aloft) are light pipes, driving sunlight directly to the interior of the plants.

The capsules of many mosses are held well clear of the foliage in order to enhance the chances of spore dispersal, but Grimmia pulvinata continues to puzzle me with its insistence on keeping the capsules buried deep under the leaves:

Grimmia pulvinata, with buried capsules
You can just make out the brown capsules in that shot.

This shot of Barbula unguiculata would make a nice banner for somewhere:

Barbula unguiculata

 On the other side of the road, we have an untended copse where dead wood is ideal for fungi. This white crusting fungus is Meruliopsis corium:

Meruliopsis corium

There are also a few patches of Snowdrops in the same area:

Snowdrops
A quick check on the Willows showed that the catkins are well advanced, so perhaps spring is on the way after all.

Willow catkins

4 comments:

Gill said...

Beautiful purple pussy willows - I don't think I've ever seen them that colour; mine tend to be soft grey. And snowdrops are always bonny.

Not much sun here and we've still got snow around - am hoping tomorrow is better.

stuart dunlop said...

I'm pretty sure that tree is cineraria, but as we know, they're all hybrids.

Peter said...

I was under the impression that ash was unusual in that it (like the late lamented elm) had an alkaline bark, thus offering a different environment to the majority of broadleaf trees.

If this is true, then the impact of C. fraxinea is likely to be considerable, as it will remove a significant niche.

stuart dunlop said...

Peter: I wasn't aware of that difference in the bark. The impact on any obligate Ash feeders will, of course, be disastrous. The point I was making (perhaps incompletely) is that although there are many species found on Ash, the vast majority also use other plants. The number of obligates is actually quite small, so the impact on overall biodiversity will be much less than if it had been Oak, Willow or Beech that we were going to lose.

One of my special interests (perhaps my main interest) is the relationship between species, and I had noticed over the years that Ash seemed to pop up quite rarely as a sole associate. Perhaps that alkaline bark is a reason for this: I must investigate further.

In passing, I'll mention that another mystery for me was the fact that Holly has only one (very common!) leaf-miner. I would have thought that a spiky leaf would be an ideal place to live, given the extra protection that spikes would provide. I wondered if Holly has perhaps some chemical protection that meant that it was toxic to most species, but it turns out that the answer is quite different: Holly is a fast-healing leaf, and Phytomyza ilicis is the only species that can mine fast enough to keep ahead of the healing process within the leaf.