Wild Wanderings 1 – Spring Plants And Some Tracking Fun

by Paul Kirtley

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Ground elder

One of the notable plants on today’s wild wandering… Photo: Paul Kirtley

Wild Wanderings is a series of photoblogs of elements of nature which, having caught my eye while out and about, I want to share with you, the reader. These observations are typically related to tree and plant identification, animal tracks and sign and other aspects of natural history which pertain to bushcraft and survival skills.

These blogs do not usually contain much written explanation other than concise photo captions. This is intentional, as writing long descriptions, including background facts or a large amount of context, whether it be historical or contemporary, slows down the sharing of these images with you.

The aim is to publish Wild Wanderings photoblogs quickly without their production getting in the way of being timely – particularly important when the blogs contain seasonal aspects.

The following photographs were taken while out on a day walk in County Durham, in the North East of England on 30 April 2016.

Spring Is Finally Springing

Ground elder leaves held in hand

Ground elder, Aegopodium podagraria, is probably at its fresh, tasty best at this stage of growth. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Raspberry leaves

Fresh leaves of raspberry, Rubus idaeus, ready for a herbal tea. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Chamerion angustifolium seed head

The seed heads of last year’s Rosebay Willow-herb, a.k.a. Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium, can be used in fire-lighting. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Alliaria petiolata flower head still green but not far off flowering

Jack-by-the-hedge, Alliaria petiolata, about to flower but tasty eating right now. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Sycamore bud bursting

A sycamore bud bursting colourfully. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Cleaves on a fence

The remains of cleavers or goose grass from last year, suspended on a barbed wire fence. This makes good tinder bundles when dry as well as historically having been used to stuff mattresses and pillows. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Elder leaves

Elder, Sambucus nigra, is only just coming into leaf here. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The very young leaves of Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, make a tasty, fresh and somewhat fruity snack. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The very young leaves of Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, made a tasty, fresh and somewhat fruity snack. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Gorse bush in full bloom

Gorse in full bloom, resplendent in the Spring sunshine. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Rosehip from last year

A rosehip persisting on a wild rose. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Very thorny wild rose stems

Some agressive looking stems on this rose… Photo: Paul Kirtley

A bank of wild garlic

A bank of wild garlic, Allium ursinum. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Allium ursinum leaves and flower bud

Wild garlic, Allium ursinum, leaves and flower bud. The flower buds are packed with flavour but don’t make your eyes water! Photo: Paul Kirtley

I saw many primroses on this walk, all of them beautiful but I particularly liked those which were growing out of the stream bank.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

I saw many primroses on this walk, all of them beautiful but I particularly liked those which were growing out of the stream bank. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Wild water mint in a stream

Water mint, Mentha aquatica, leaves forming from rhizomes clearly visible in the water. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Opposite leaved golden saxifrage leaves

A lush mat of opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, Chrysoplenium oppositifolium, on the edge of a stream. This is a tasty, fresh and juicy salad plant. Photo: Paul Kirtley

opposite leaved golden saxifrage flowers

The golden flowers of opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The inforescence of Moschatel, Adoxa moschatellina

The inforescence of Moschatel, Adoxa moschatellina

Foxglove and saxifrage

A foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, developing strongly on the side of the stream, as well as more opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. Photo: Paul Kirtley

A fresh new shoot of cleaves, Galium aparine. Photo: Paul Kirtley

A fresh new shoot of cleaves, Galium aparine. Photo: Paul Kirtley

chickweed plant

Chickweed, Stellaria media, makes for a fresh, tasty salad ingredient. It also has some saponin content, which makes it a useful source of natural soap. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The blossom of cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

The blossom of cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera. Photo: Paul Kirtley

leaves of pignut

Here be the leaves of pignut, Conopodium majus. Always a great find. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Once I got my eye in properly, I could see hundreds of pignut plants in this area. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Once I got my eye in properly, I could see hundreds of pignut plants in this area. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Rabbits are coming through the fence here and you can see the hop spots clearly too. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Rabbits are coming through the fence here and you can see the hop spots clearly too. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Man Tracking Action

The last photo in the section above indicates how you can learn to interpret the tracks and signs left behind by animals.

Today I was walking in an area very few people go to. While wandering to see what trees and plants I could see as well as observe their stage of development, I spotted some sign of someone having walked through the grass then along one of the trails used by deer and sheep in the area.

At first there was some flattened grass, which also shone in the spring sunshine. Then I found a partial print. I followed the spoor and found more prints in a muddy area, which I continued to follow along more grass and other vegetation. This led to an area of meandering stream, which the person crossed several times. My overall impression was that this was a tall, relatively sprightly male. Below are a selection of photos from this little bit of trailing fun…

Flattened vegetation indicates the passing of a person.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

Flattened vegetation indicates the passing of a person. Photo: Paul Kirtley

A boot tread and crushed vegetation visible here. Photo: Paul Kirtley

A boot tread and crushed vegetation visible here. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Clear footprints in the soft damp mud, heading in the direction of a shallow patch of the stream.  A classic track trap. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Clear footprints in the soft damp mud, heading in the direction of a shallow patch of the stream. A classic track trap. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Wet mud transferred onto a rock used as a stepping across a stream. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Wet mud transferred onto a rock used a stepping across a stream. Photo: Paul Kirtley

There are multiple clues to someone having passed through this area relatively recently.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

There are multiple clues to someone having passed through this area relatively recently, including crushed vegetation and mud transfer. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Mud transferred from the sole of a boot to the moss on this exposed root. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Mud transferred from the sole of a boot to the moss on this exposed root. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Mud transferred from a boot onto an exposed root by the side of the stream.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

Mud transferred from a boot onto an exposed root by the side of the stream. Photo: Paul Kirtley

There is dried mud transfer from a boot on the rock in the centre of this photo.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

There is dried mud transfer from a boot on the rock in the centre of this photo. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Roe Deer Tracks And Sign

I followed the man’s trail for a little longer until he hit a boundary and looped back in the general direction from which he came.

I continued on my wandering and came to a tree under which I spotted multiple bird droppings. This is always a good sign of a perch or a roost. As I stepped back to look up, a buzzard flapped through the vegetation of the upper branches.

Nearby was an area of lush grass and low gorse bushes. I could see some light disturbance in the grass – something “up” with the natural uniformity of the colour/shade.

As I grew closer I could see there was some regularity to the disturbance. I followed this with my eyes and then noticed a flattened area of grass the size and shape of a roe deer, Capreolus capreolus

The impression of a roe deer left in the grass. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The impression of a roe deer left in the grass. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Here you can see the individual footsteps of a deer in the grass, with its direction of travel clearly indicated by the grass being pushed forwards and down.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

Here you can see the individual footsteps of a deer in the grass, with its direction of travel clearly indicated by the grass being pushed forwards and down. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The trail up to another deer lay can be seen here as colour change and disturbance in the grass. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The trail up to another deer lay can be seen here as colour change and disturbance in the grass. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Roe deer lay up point flattened grass in the shade

Where a deer has layed down – to rest and probably chew cud – the grass has been flattened. Photo: Paul Kirtley

A roe deer has laid here in the shadow of this gorse bush. Photo: Paul Kirtley

A roe deer has laid here in the shadow of this gorse bush. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Here you can see a roe deer hair in the grass on which it has rested. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Here you can see a roe deer hair in the grass on which it has rested. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The first hair extracted from the deer lay was long and the reddish summer colouration of roe deer was visible.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

The first hair extracted from the deer lay was long and the reddish summer colouration of roe deer was visible. Photo: Paul Kirtley

A wiggly deer hair in the grass. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Wiggly deer hairs in the grass, where it was sitting. Photo: Paul Kirtley

One of the more wiry, wiggly hairs from a roe deer.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

One of the more wiry, wiggly hairs from a roe deer. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Wet dropping in the grass. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Wet dropping in the grass. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Today’s walk was immersive and engaging, enhanced by the brilliant Spring sunshine. I did have a few rain and hail showers but it did not detract one bit from the walk. In fact, the April showers added to the enjoyment. I can’t capture birdsong with photographs but if I could it would be a technicolour show. There were a multitude of songbirds singing their hearts out from the safety of the hawthorns and willows that lined the little valley which was home to the stream and many of the plants I saw today. It’s a great time of year to be out….

Photographic Kit

If you are interested, the photos were taken with a Nikon D800 and a number of lenses including the very good Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AF-S but mainly the excellent Nikkor 60mm f2.8 AF-S Micro.

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog

If you’d like to learn more about the species mentioned in the above photoblog, then the following material here on my website will help deepen your knowledge and understanding…

How To Tell The Difference Between Chickweed and Yellow Pimpernell

Primrose, Primula vulgaris: Wild food?

Conopodium majus: Pignuts and How to Forage for them

Rosebay Willowherb: Taking The Pith

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Welsby

Great article Paul,
I will have to go out and see if all these plants are native to my side of the pond. Believe it or not I got most of the tracking photos before I read the description below of them. Would love to see more articles with tracking information in them this is a great interest in me Man or animal.
Best regards Dave

Reply

Steve

Really interesting photos and comments. Great source of information and inspiration. like the format, more please!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Noted Steve. Thanks for your feedback πŸ™‚

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Dean

I am liking this very much. Without doubt you are running one of the most informative and helpful sites I have come across to date. I very much appreciate your vast contributions to the bushcraft community.

Reply

Carleton

Grrat article Paul
Really helpful for up to the minute info
For walks with the kids this week.
I find your real pictures so much more informative
When doing id rather than plates in a book.

Thanks

Reply

John

Hi Paul,

Stunning work! Absolutely love it!

Could there be some way to incorporate what exactly the plants are for in a kind of a ‘format’? For example:
– Chickweed (Stellaria media) – Salad / Soap
– Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) – Tea
– Rosebay Willow-herb/Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) – Fire-lighting … then a description below if needed, as in … Last year’s seed heads.
Since most people never know/remember the botanical names, I’ve put them here in brackets.

Tracking is so deep a subject. And while tracking does intertwine with plant identification I do think that it justifies an altogether different blog/page/link.

Cheers!

Reply

dan westall

A picture speaks a thousand words.

This is what we get the kids to do and I do myself.
Our brains are wired to take in a lot of info from images, then these images
Imprint in our mind. Quicker id comes from this.
If only this was taught in schools instead of learning about dinosaurs!
We deliver nature sessions to a school but have just been given the chop at the end of the term no money!!
But every child has a tablet in the school. Crazy.
With one school we have been watching a pair of blackbirds build a nest and lay eggs and the kids can’t get enough of it. Nature it’s amazing.

Reply

Ian Shankland

Thanks Paul, enjoyable and informative as usual.

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Scott Senior

Great article Paul – looking forward to more of these- especially enjoyed the tracking details

Reply

Barry

Brilliant again Paul a nice concise read

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Sue O'Brien

Hi Paul. I really enjoyed this Blog post. Very informative, and lovely to read and look at the photos. I think this format will really encourage people to go out follow the path less obvious, wander, slow down, look and study and question what’s going on around them. Nice one.

Reply

John

Really interesting article with great identification pictures, informative and fun with the tracking comments too. Please do more of these when you have the time. Best regards,

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Rich Oldham

Love the format Paul.
The clear pictures and short concise information on plant identification really works for me as a learning tool.
The information then following on tracking again really works.
Living in North East England the whole walk is so familiar to me but again my next walk will be enhanced by the new knowledge I’ve just picked up.
Cracking – keep it up.

Reply

Alexa

Loved this format – great refresher on spring plants and love the tracking info. Brilliant!

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Greg McManmon

Hi Paul. Thanks for that , very enjoyable and useful format. I’ve had some good walks this last week through my local reserve by the Ribble just near Preston and seen the same plants in full spring glory. Comparing what you see happening in your area to what I see is great, and your I.D.’s are useful. I’ve come across flattened areas of grass before and presumed it must’ve been a deer. I’m thinking any such flattened areas that size would be deer not any other creature. Next time I’ll look for hairs! I enjoyed the creepy stalking bit too. I hadn’t thought about mud transferred before,..but now I will. Thanks very much, great stuff! Greg.

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Mark Metcalfe

Hi Paul,
Excellent read! Very informative piece with quality photo accompaniment . Looking forward to the next one already!

Reply

Chris Potter

Paul

Hi , pretty much all those plants are here in NZ, the tracking of spoor of man is something I regularly do while hunting deer, it becomes second nature while hunting deer I can assure you otherwise you won’t bag a deer ! same with hunting Boar ( without dogs ) you must track the spoor also and follow the sign on the ground and understand that all living creatures must have water, find the waterhole or stream and track back from there. Should be taught to children, patience is a must and calming one’s mind and seeing oneself as one with the earth, the sky and trees will attune a person to reading spoor. That is my own experience.

Regards Chris in NZ

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mark ebeling

Thanks Paul, love the photos, good job. Show some pics from your bush craft classes.

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Sue S

“The human spirit needs places that have not been rearranged by the hand of man”

Thanks so much for this Paul. The format is perfect. You can take in a lot if information in a short period of time. Just perfect.

Reply

Tom Scandian

I love this layout Paul, it was great to test myself with the plant ID section before confirming by checking your notes too. Great layout, lots of fun to read and much to digest. Thanks for all your hard work in producing something so excellent.

Reply

Luke

Really nice article Paul.
More like this would be most welcome.
Two thumbs up for great content!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Thanks for the feedback Luke.

All the best,

Paul

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Richard Tiley

This is a great seasonal resource. Wonderful pictures have made my local wanderings much more informed. Thank you very much!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

My pleasure Richard. Thanks for your kind words and feedback.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

phil

Great article and to the point. Very easy to use.

Nice one

Phil

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Phil

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Jason Brown

Fantastic stuff Paul. Thanks so much! πŸ™‚

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Kev baldwin

Great idea Paul. Quick, neat and concise. The tracking element is especially informative as I am sure most of us overlook this element when we are out and about.
Thanks.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Thanks for your feedback Kev. Glad you liked it πŸ™‚

Reply

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