Wild Wanderings 5 – Seasonal Shift

by Paul Kirtley

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The days of July and August were full for me. Working with students for the majority of the days through these months, sped me from the verdant freshness of June to the verge of autumn with barely a day to myself.

At the end of August, I was back in the north east of England visiting family. This is where I spent the bulk of my teens. I know this area very well. Yet I always relish heading out on foot into the surrounding country.

Solo walks here provide mental space and decompression. While it’s familiar ground, the detail is different every time. Echoing what I wrote in Wild Wanderings 3, nature’s cycles are variable and one should always be open minded to what you might come across at any given time.

These images were taken in the last few days of August in County Durham, UK.

A Fruitful Time Of Year

The latter parts of summer inevitably see swelling fruits and a burgeoning crop of easily harvested wild edibles. But you are never sure when any particular species is going to peak. Nor are you ever sure how good a year it’s going to be for a given species.

Raspberry

Rasperries are one of my favourite fruits. I keep a keen eye out for them. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Common wasp eating raspberry fruit

I’m not the only one who is enjoying raspberries at this time of year though. Here a common wasp chows down. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Elderberries of varying ripeness

These elderberries are not quite there yet. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Bumper crop of hawthorn fruit

Here it’s a good year for Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. Great for making fruit leathers. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Sloes

Sloes, the fruit of blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, are ripening but there are not many here this year. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Terminal fruits of blackberries ripening first

One of the commonest, most easily identifiable and best wild fruits of this time of year is the bramble, a.k.a. blackberry, Rubus fruticosus. The terminal fruits are typically the first to ripen and often the sweetest. Catch them at their best at this time of year. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Juicy red Rowan berries

Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, berries have been ripening for some time but these are spot on right now. Further south, they have already past their best. Photo: Paul Kirtley

pears on a tree

More domesticated fruits are doing well here this year. I came across an abandoned orchard behind a derelict dwelling. Here there are pears as well as cooking apples and smaller varieties of apple (see below). These pears had decent flavour but were little hard yet. Give them a few more weeks…. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Apple leaves

There’s a seeming randomness to the arrangement of the leaves of many of the related fruit trees. I can’t help but see the similarities between these apple leaves and the arrangement of wild cherry leaves. Photo: Paul Kirtley

apples in good quantities.

A bumper year for apples up here. This is in contrast to my favourite apple trees down south in Sussex, which have not really produced this year. These are only small apples, about an inch across. They do contain some domestication but are still really quite sour. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Snowberries.

Unlike all of the above, this is a fruit you don’t want to be nibbling on. Snowberry is an introduced species in the honeysuckle family. In North America it has been used by the natives for various skin complaints as well as for washing hair and skin (the berries contain saponins) but only a few of the berries is considered a fatal dose if injested. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The delicate flowers of Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus.  County Durham, UK.

The delicate flowers of Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus. County Durham, UK. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Beech nuts and green beech leaves

Strictly speaking many of what we call nuts are fruits. No less beech masts. The small nutlets the brown husks contain are good eating once they have fully formed. This looks like a good year for them… Photo: Paul Kirtley

Gone To Seed

At this point in the year, many small flowering plants (angiosperms) have gone to seed or are in the process of releasing seeds. Some of these are good for food. Others have utility in other applications.

Seeds of fireweed

Rosebay willowherb, a.k.a. fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium, produces fluffy seeds, which start to become apparent at this time of year. These downy seed heads are a useful addition to tinder bundles. Teased out they will also take a spark from a ferro rod. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Rosebay willowherb seed capsules burst to produce silky downy seed heads

The truncheon-like seed capsules burst to release a mass of downy seeds. Photo: Paul Kirtley

seeds of Alliaria petiolata

Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, is often thought of as a spring edible. It’s seed pods, however, persist much later in the year. The little black seeds are tasty and pack a good mustard punch if you like that sort of thing. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Seeds of Galium aparine

The burrs of Galium aparine, more commonly known as cleavers, goosegrass or sticky willie. This relative of coffee produces a decent coffee substitute. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Leaves of broad leaved dock

This broad-leaved dock has seen better days. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Broad leaved dock seeds

The seeds of broad-leaved dock, Rumex obtusifoluus. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The seeds of hogweed, Haracleum sphondylium. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The seeds of hogweed, Haracleum sphondylium. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Foxgloves

Now that the vibrant purple flowers have passed, foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, are fading back into the greenery. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Flower Power

Despite many trees and plants displaying fruits and seeds in late August/early September, there are still a surprising number of flowers around.

Flowers of chickweed

The diminutive flowers of chickweed, Stellaria media, visible here. This plant was in amongst lush grass in a meadow, Down at this level, it could have been spring. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Line of hairs on the stem of chickweed

Don’t forget a key identification feature of chickweed is the single line of hairs on the stem. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Mentha aquatica flowers

Water mint, Mentha aquatica, by a steam. Still in flower in late August. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Bee on flowers

There were multiple species of bee taking advantage of the flowers. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Bee on mint

The bees were loving these mint flowers. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Bee on mint flower

The mint was buzzing with bee acivity. I remained and watched these industrious little creatures for some time. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Silene dioica flower

A plant which was somewhat past its verdant best yet still sporting a very healthy flower was this red campion, Silene dioica. It is a relative of soapwort and, while not as soapy as its cousin, this plant does contains saponins which make it a useful natural soap. It is, however, somewhat toxic if injested. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Privet flower

Further back into the woods a more unusual flowering shrub I found was a species of privet, in the Ligustrum genus. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Dead Nettles and Not-So-Dead Nettles

Water mint, Mentha aquatica is in the mint family. This may seem like an obvious statement but this family, also known as the deadnettle family or Lamiaciaea is a large one, which contains many species other than the minty ones. Yes, there are a lot of aromatic herbs included here, including rosemary, thyme, basil, sage to name but a few. But there are also other important species, including the hemp nettles.

ID guides often state hemp nettles are common but I have to say I don’t come across them as often as many other common members of this family. In my experience the hemp nettles seem to do well on the margins of arable farm land. So, here in the middle of undisturbed woodland, I was surprised to find specimens of common hemp nettle, Galeopsis tetrahit.

seed bearing parts of common hemp nettle

The last of the flowers of common hemp nettled giving was to the spiky seed “funnels” which are characteristic of this species. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The leaves of common hemp-nettle, Galeopsis tetrahit. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The leaves of common hemp-nettle, Galeopsis tetrahit. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The roughly hairy stem of common hemp nettle, which is in many ways reminiscent of stinging nettles, which is not a close relative.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

The roughly hairy stem of common hemp nettle, which is in many ways reminiscent of stinging nettles, which is not a close relative. Photo: Paul Kirtley

There were other members of the deadnettle family nearby, not always easy to spot.

Hedge woundwort amongst stinging nettles

Hedge woundwort, Stachys sylvatica, is a plant in the family Lamiaceae, which looks very similar to stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. Here you can see the former species blending in, within a stand of stinging nettles. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Stinging nettle in seed

There was a large patch of stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, across the trail/ There clearly had not been many people along here in recent times. One key ID feature distinguishing this species from the nearby deadnettles was the very different flower/seed structure of this species compared to the typical Lamiaceae plant. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Greenery Persists

Despite the clear signs of late summer/early autumn, there was plenty of fresh, green leafy life around. This was particularly the case in the damp ground down near to the stream which was flowing through this area.

common sorrel leaves

Some large, juicy leaves of common sorrel, Rumex acetosa, I found near a stream. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Meadowseet leaves

Very young-looking leaves of meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Opposite leaved golden saxifrage leaves

An oft overlooked wild salad is the crisp and juicy opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, Chrysoplenium oppositifolium. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Veronica beccabunga plant in damp grassy ground

Also succulent but not so palatable, brooklime, Veronica beccabunga, is found in very damp ground. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Oxalis leaves

There is still plenty of wood sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, around on the forest floor. Photo: Paul Kirtley

More Badger Digging

I featured badger activity in Wild Wanderings 2 and Wild Wanderings 4.

Here, again, we have evidence of badgers digging up a wasp nest to access the larvae. I have seen more evidence of this activity than in recent years. I’ve seen multiple excavated wasp nests in recent weeks, in Sussex as well as County Durham. I’ve also seen a lot of wasps this year. My feeling, based on my own anecdotal evidence, is there are more wasp nests than in recent years and, therefore, more opportunities for badgers to dig them up.

woods and stream

I was crossing the stream at this point and noticed the dark hole to the right of the photo. Photo: Paul Kirtley

I could see a lot of disturbance to the vegetation in the area as well as flattening. Photo: Paul Kirtley

I could see a lot of disturbance to the vegetation in the area as well as flattening. Photo: Paul Kirtley

In amongst the low growth of hedge woundwort here I spotted something.  Can you see it?

In amongst the low growth of hedge woundwort here I spotted something. Can you see it?

A little closer and you might be able to make out what it is... Photo: Paul Kirtley

A little closer and you might be able to make out what it is… Photo: Paul Kirtley

Closer still and you can see it is the remains of one of the combs from the wasp nest.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

Closer still and you can see it is the remains of one of the combs from the wasp nest. Photo: Paul Kirtley

A close up view of looking into the excavated hole.  You can see the papery remains of the wasp nest.  There were still wasps active in the area, with them coming and going from the damaged nest as I took photographs.  Photo: Paul Kirtley

A close up view of looking into the excavated hole. You can see the papery remains of the wasp nest. There were still wasps active in the area, with them coming and going from the damaged nest as I took photographs. Photo: Paul Kirtley

What Are These Wild Wanderings Blogs Anyway?

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.

Photographic Kit

The above photos were taken with the diminutive yet powerful Leica D-Lux (Type 109).

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog…

Rosebay Willowherb: Taking The Pith

Wild Wanderings 4 – Summer, Sussex and Students

Five Survival Plants Every Forager Should Know

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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.

 

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Howard

Excellent post – really enjoying this series – keep it up!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Thanks Howard.

Reply

Jens Eberhard

Wonderful pictures, Paul! Thanks alot!
I like in particular the pictures with the fruits and berries – imaging how well they may taste…

Jens

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hey Jens,

Thanks for your feedback. Yes, some of the photos may my mouth water too – particularly the raspberries and blackberries! 🙂

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Kev Baldwin

Thanks Paul. I always enjoy trying to id your photo’s before revealing the caption so they are a great learning tool too.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hey Kev,

It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for letting me know how you are using these photoblogs. It’s not something I had thought of so I’m glad you are finding additional value in the material.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Michael Sander

Gosh, I love this format. A wealth of information in a nicely compressed form appetizing to investigate for background facts on my own when convenient.

Thanks a lot, Paul. Very much appreciated. Please keep them coming.

Reply

Jim

Hi Paul
Great photos! It is amazing how many of the same plants grow also in North America as Europe. People
throw an apple core along side the road. Ten years later an the deer can be seen trying to reach the fruit
on tress resulting from the discarded seed. You are a good photographer.
Jim-Pacific Nw

Reply

mark spitzer

This series is great. It’s shows & names what we might see out & about. It’s strength is that it is contemporaneous, it’s what I would find if I stepped out right now. Simple & useful. Thanks.

Reply

John Galloway

Brilliant series Paul I have been out today on the Wirral and the woods are full of life and still a lot of fruitstuff available unfortunately had to cut short outing due to heavy rain and thunderstorms enjoying your series looking forward to more cheers.

Reply

Dave Howard

Another brilliant donation from you Paul. I am so grateful for these, both as a refresher/learning tool, and just as much as a little push, to get out and find all these things, which you manage to capture so expertly on camera. I love the picture of the wasp on the raspberry, what a shame the BBC Countryfile calendar photo competition ended last week, a definite winner.
Keep safe, keep sharing your knowledge, Dave.

Reply

Mark Barton

Hiya Paul,
As a new subscriber, myself and the wife are really enjoying reading this and the other stuff you put online.
So much so that the wife is coming out with me at the weekend to do a bit of plant/ tree is. Result!!
Keep it up.
Mark

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Nice one Mark. I hope you and your wife find some interesting specimens. Thanks for your feedback and I’m glad I’ve inspired your wife to join you on your forays.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Robin Dalton

Paul, not usually one to reply to blogs, but really enjoyed reading your seasonal wander.
Keep it going, as they are fantastic. Intrigued by fruit leathers from the haws, so will look into that more!
On a local note, I wander the woodlands of Calderdale, West Yorkshire, and would be interested to hear how the beech/oak mast is elsewhere. In a local ancient woodland, oak are showing a good mast year.
Appreciate that beech can be roasted and eaten. but I was also wondering about the acorns.
Thanks again.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Robin,

Thanks for your comment. I appreciate you taking the time to leave some thoughts/questions.

I’ll keep an eye on the oaks on my wanders and report back.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Liam Gadd

Wow Paul, loving these wild wanderings… A great addition and reminder of all that i’m learning in the ID masterclass. (Still 3 years on and playing catch up… So much content it’s great!)

Bit upset that the camera you used is waaay out of my price range though. Grabbing decent pictures is certainly hard to do. Trying to get a budget camera to focus on the important minute details is tough.

Reply

Liam Gadd

The bit about the camera was tongue in cheek by the way. You haven’t upset me at all lol.
Might have to poke up with budget camera for a while though 😉

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Liam,

It’s good to hear from you and I’m glad this series is augmenting your learning.

True regarding small cameras and focusing but phone cameras are getting better all the time. Phones are the major reason why there are so few cheap, small consumer cameras on the market any more.

That said, as I mentioned in this article, phones make really good notebooks for when we are out an about.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

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