A new year walk on a very busy stretch of the West Sussex coastline. Proof, if you needed it, that I can do watery blogs.
Now, I am a total novice when it comes to marine ecosystems. I know mostly where the sea is and that the moon has convinced it to sway back and forth. It’s also made of water, among other things.
When it comes to crabs, however, nah.
My partner is a beach scourerer, snapping into squirrel-of-the-shore the moment she steps foot on a beach. She found this bizarre-looking shell/casing/wild packaging. I took a pic and then popped it onto iNaturalist. No dice.
I asked ‘marine ppl’ on Twitter. It appears this kind of person is particularly active on a Monday evening! Many replies later it turned out that it was a likely reproductive pouch of a female spiny spider crab. Thanks to everyone who helped.
Interestingly, a couple of other people had posted the exact same thing on the Worthing coastline in recent days. It shows the power of social media for community science and ecological learning, not just the misinformation, hate and division it seems famous for.
Sometimes iNaturalist doesn’t get the job done, often because the photos are technically inadequate. The very active ‘nature communities’ on Twitter can reach many people with helpful info, and very quickly. I find that with identification it’s a matter of several avenues of knowledge and information. In the same way that there is no one winning wildlife field guide, and definitely not for fungi.
On another note, I was kicking myself after forgetting to try and find Mercury and Venus slipping away with the Sun out at sea. Then again, a band of cloud on the horizon may have blocked any views. Maybe another time.
One of my favourite things to photograph in winter is a frost-encrusted leaf. Where the frost remains long enough it allows for us non-early risers to enjoy some at lunchtime (to look at, rather than eat).
On the morning of Thursday 8th December I could hear sycamore leaves falling in the garden. There was a thick frost, the trigger for these leaves to let go.
At a nearby nature reserve I found this yellow hawthorn leaf, a colour hawthorn isn’t really known for. It’s one of the most underrated trees, despite its prevalence, and ecological and cultural value in England.
The image doesn’t do the real thing justice but even lichens get frosty sometimes. This is a little cluster of oak moss lichen that had fallen from a tree.
In early December I was passing through the village of Amberley in West Sussex. It’s a very quaint village at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex. This rather well updated cottage is located at the roadside, at the end of the village’s main throughway. It was surrounded by rather sinister, leaden skies, as rain threatened to pass through. Thankfully it didn’t.
It’s very difficult to get photos of these buildings without cars nearby, but I feel that it gives a sense of the cottage’s place in time. The model and type of vehicle will likely be very different in 50 years time, when the cottage should still be there, such is the level of investment and care that goes into these buildings in this area.
On the left hand side you can see part of an old barn, with its sloping thatched roof and its clapboard-style entranceway, where wagons would once have been drawn in to unload.
An article popped up recently highlighting the chance to see several planets in the sky at once. On the evening of the 29th December 2022, I took out my camera and tripod to see what was happening out there in the garden.
A grey heron (Ardea cinerea) at the edge of a woodland at Warnham Nature Reserve in West Sussex, Sunday 4th December 2022.
The heron was looking back and forth across the reeds and wetlands. The temperatures have dropped to more typical winter levels, meaning birds and mammals that don’t hibernate will be under added pressure to find food.
Recent mild Decembers have been replaced this year with colder than average temperatures.
On 24th October 2022 I spent the morning taking photos of fungi in the Sussex Weald, and was treated to one of the final flourishes of the season. There had been heavy rainfall in recent days and the beech leaf fall had begun, meaning that the mushrooms were beginning to disappear. This often marks the end of the main mushroom glut in autumn, from my experience.
To fast forward to the end, just as I was on my way out of the woods and putting my camera away, I noticed what looked like discarded tissue in a ditch at the edge of the track.
This is a very unusual looking fungus and isn’t the typical gilled mushroom despite their appearance of having a stipe and something resembling a cap. They’re actually ascomycete fungi, so spore-shooters, rather than the often gilled basidiomycetes.
On a recent visit to Streatham Common in SE London, I was taken aback by the number of December mushrooms. In SE England we’ve switched from -5 one day, to 12C a few days later. The seasons seem to be collapsing around us, and then reviving themselves. It feels like the only reliability we may…
As seen on Sunday 11th December, my final guided walk of 2022 for London Wildlife Trust. London woke to freezing fog with hoar frost in places, as temperatures stayed well below zero. These are difficult days to get out of bed, but the rewards of a foggy, frosty oak woodland are too good to miss.…
I was travelling into East Hampshire for work in August and realised it would probably be one of my last chances to photograph a cottage I had passed several times. Arnside Cottage is, as you can see, situated at the road side, in the village of Clanfield in East Hampshire. Technically it has been adapted…
On a warm and clear day in October I walked between two of Sussex’s most famous and well-loved hillforts: Chanctonbury Ring and Cissbury Ring. This is a walk that you can access by public transport, with buses to Washington and then from Findon off the A24.
I didn’t know much about Iron Age hillforts until I worked in the South Downs National Park and had the chance to learn from people working at the National Trust and other heritage experts. Still, my knowledge is not strong on this subject.
It is amazing to think that these hilltops might once have held the equivalent of small villages, using the hilltops to monitor the movement of people across land in the north, and at sea in the south.
The walk winds its way up through woodland to Washington chalk pits, an old chalk quarry that’s now habitat for butterflies and orchids. Here you get good views north to the Greensand Hills where Leith Hill, the highest point in SE England can be spotted (out of shot on the right hand side in the north).
It wouldn’t be a walk for me without the sighting of something fungal. The cow pats in a field approaching Cissbury Ring contained some inkcaps which may be the uncommon snowy inkcap. In the distance the ridge of the Downs bowls away west towards Amberley and the Arun Valley.
Immediately upon ascending the Downs, you can get good views south to Cissbury Ring, a hillfort much, much bigger than Chanctonbury Ring. In the distance are views of the south coast and, in this image, the Rampion windfarm. It’s named after ‘the pride of Sussex’, round-headed rampion, a flower more common in the South Downs.
You approach Chanctonbury Ring on the South Downs Way. I like this subtle stretch of the trail, with the beech trees that cover the ring giving a parkland feel.
In the distance beyond Chanctonbury Ring are the aerial towers of Truleigh Hill, home to the Youth Hostel and secret bunkers (apparently).
I first heard of Chanctonbury Ring when reading Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways. There are stories of the ring being ‘haunted’, not just by nature writers. It’s a welcome place to sit and rest, taking in the views under the fair shade of the beech trees. You can understand why this smaller hillfort would be such a good location to observe the comings and goings in the surrounding landscape.
Continuing east on the South Downs Way, views of Devil’s Dyke begin to open out. During the walk the site was visible through the glinting of the sun hitting car windows in the National Trust car park!
Devil’s Dyke (what is one of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring parts of the Downs) can be seen in the mid-left/centre of the image where the dark lump of woodland sits atop the ridge. Truleigh Hill is again visible with the masts.
Turning back to look over your shoulder gives a nice view of Chanctonbury Ring. I think the lump of hills in the right hand side of the image is Black Down, the highest point in the South Downs National Park, near Haslemere in Surrey.
Leaving the site of Chanctonbury Ring gives the impression of walking straight into the sea.
There’s a southern turning to take towards Cissbury Ring and off the South Downs Way. The track leads alongside arable fields and shooting cover. In this view the distant shape of the Isle of Wight is visible in the top right.
The resplendent South Downs set against a ribbon of blue sea and cloud-scattered sky.
Approaching views of Cissbury Ring.
Cissbury Ring is owned by the National Trust, thank god.
On Cissbury Ring there are better views of Brighton and the Seven Sisters cliffs reaching round to Eastbourne. This was a good way to observe the landing of invading armies but probably also to monitor trade.
Out at sea you can get closer views of the white turbines of the windfarm. The development required cables to be dug into the landscape, with a long strip having to be cut through the Downs to reach the electricity terminal. One person I know who lives in Hove said they were comforted by the red flashing lights on the horizon at night.
This sycamore tree got quite a lot of Instagram interest during lockdown, when a local person posted stunning phone pics of the sunsets up here. This is looking towards the Findon Valley.
Looking back where we’d travelled from, Chantoncbury Ring’s mini-hillfort can be seen as a beech clump on the hill, but much smaller now.
To the west, if you have binoculars, you can see the City of Portsmouth outlined on the horizon.
A last look across the Findon Valley, west into the Downs. The ramparts of the hillfort are in the image’s foreground.
One of my favourite things to photograph in winter is a frost-encrusted leaf. Where the frost remains long enough it allows for us non-early risers to enjoy some at lunchtime (to look at, rather than eat). On the morning of Thursday 8th December I could hear sycamore leaves falling in the garden. There was a…
There’s a field I pass by on walks near where I live. Recently I was walking along the path next to the field and took the photo above, the oaks turning to yellow across the landscape. The shadow of trees to the right, combined with the sunbeam, make it look like half of the Green…
Last week I went for a walk in rather grey and glowery weather. It was in hope of seeing some earlier spring signs but was more a reminder that winter persists.
I found a small collection of glistening inkcaps, along with one of my favourite large brackets. Those are pictured here with my hand for scale.
Otherwise there were some small polypores (probably turkey tail) and a few lichens that had been enriched by recent rain.
Life is rather full-on at the moment so I’m not finding the time or energy to write something longer or more detailed. It’s also a mental thing, just don’t have a lot to say. Photography will be the focus in posts for a little while.