Wild Wanderings 2 – Wonderful Woods, Badger Latrines and A Weird Parasite

Wild Wanderings 2 – Wonderful Woods, Badger Latrines and A Weird Parasite

Hazel and bluebell woods in the north of England
Hazel, wild garlic, bluebells and more. There’s lots happening in the woods at this time of year… Photo: Paul Kirtley

This is the second in my Wild Wanderings series of photoblogs. The idea is to share elements of nature which, having caught my eye while out and about and to do this quickly after the fact, with minimal fuss in terms of my having to write lots of explanatory text (which often gets in the way of me publishing an article at all). The observations in these photoblogs 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.

As mentioned above, these blogs do not usually contain much written explanation other than concise photo captions. This is intentional, as writing long descriptions, including background facts, additional information, extensive identification features, descriptions of uses, or a large amount of context, whether it be historical or contemporary, slows down – or even precludes – the sharing of these images with you.

The following photographs were taken while out on a varied 12 mile (19 km) day hike in County Durham, in the North East of England on 8 May 2016.

Signs Of Life Everywhere

If you know where to look there are plenty of signs of wildlife, particularly deer, in these parts. The woods I was walking through in the first part of my hike are largely mixed broadleaf deciduous, containing hazel, wych elm, ash, sycamore, birch, beech, oaks, willows, bird cherry, wild cherry. There is also a smattering of yew trees. On a sunny spring day such as today with the trees only starting to come into leaf, there is plenty of sunshine reaching the forest floor and the spring plants take full advantage of this light. What’s interesting this year, however, is that many of these spring plants all seem to be bunched together. There is often a succession with some plants such as wood anemones and celandines showing quite early, giving way to primroses, violets and stitchwort and wood sorrel, later being caught up by bluebells and followed by red campions. This year, everything seems to be out and flowering at once…

deer trail in woods
There is a deer trail here, not as strongly cut as some “racks” but you can see evidence of the passing of animals by the lower ground foliage, fewer bluebells and disturbance of the leaf litter in the centre of the photograph. Photo: Paul Kirtley
leaves of Wych Elm
Fresh new leaves of Wych elm, Ulmus glabra. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Toothwort, Lathraea squamaria
The parasitic plant Toothwort, Lathraea squamaria, has not a hint of green as it does not photosynthesise. It gains its nutrition from the roots of its host, often hazel or elm, and the what can be seen here is the fruiting stem, which is reckoned to resemble a row of teeth. Photo: Paul Kirtley
wood anemone flower
Wood anemones soaking up the spring sunshine. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Celandines still going strong. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Flowers in the sun by a stream
Flowers of opposite-leaved golden saxifrage by a stream. Photo: Paul Kirtley
forget me nots in flower
Forget-me-nots. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Common primrose, Primula vulgaris.
Common primrose, Primula vulgaris. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Red campion flowers
Red campion, Silene dioica, in flower. Photo: Paul Kirtley
deer trail through the woods
A deer trail at right angles to the footpath I was walking. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Bugle Ajuga
Bugle, Ajuga reptans, pushing up on the side of a footpath. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Hedge woundwort young plant all furry
Hedge woundwort, Stachys sylvestris, emerging. Photo: Paul Kirtley
trifolate leaves
The trifolate leaves of wood avens, a.k.a. herb bennet, a.k.a clove root, Geum urbanum. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Pignut leaves and anemones
There are lots of pignuts here in the dappled light of the forest floor. Photo: Paul Kirtley
flowering stalk of pignut
Some pignuts are sending up their flowering stalks already. Photo: Paul Kirtley
A young leaf of Meadowseet, Filipendula ulmaria, a useful medicinal herb. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Yew tree needles
It’s great to see yew trees in these woods. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Plump pigeon in a tree.
This plump wood pigeon showed an unusual reluctance to abandon its perch as I approached (albeit quietly and slowly). Photo: Paul Kirtley

The Trees Are Not Far Behind

All the trees not already doing so, are either coming into leaf or showing signs they are about to imminently. Many trees flower not longer after they come into leaf. They work fast. Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, seen on this walk was about to come into blossom and has probably done so by the time of writing. Fellow member of the Rosaceae, Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, was also developing flowers. While the Sun will be getting higher for another six weeks or so and getting stronger day by day, the forest floor will soon be getting more shady. You can see why the plants all make a rush for it in the early part of Spring. And for the likes of blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, which blossoms first, it is also coming into leaf.

Rowan about to flower
Rowan, a.k.a mountain ash, about to flower. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Hawthorn in leaf and about to blosson
Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, about to come into blossom. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Common ash, Fraxinus excelsior, flowering.
Common ash, Fraxinus excelsior, flowering. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Blackthorn leaves on a shoot
Blackthorn, Prunus Spinosa, coming into leaf. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Larch needles growing
Larch is unusual amongst European needled trees in that it is deciduous. Here are new leaves emerging vigourously. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Sycamore leaf and flower
A sycmore flower emerging shortly after the leaf. Photo: Paul Kirtley
A deer trail diverging from my footpath through the vigorous growth of understorey plants. Photo: Paul Kirtley
A deer trail diverging from my footpath through the vigorous growth of understorey plants. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Life On The Margins

On the edge of the woods, there is lots going on too…

Rosette of burdock leaves near a dry stone wall
Burdock showing strong development. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Finger pointing at the leaf of a common sorrel leaf
On the grassy edges of fields I noticed a good amount of the tart but tasty common sorrel, Rumex acetosa. Photo: Paul Kirtley
nettle patch
A nettle patch re-emerges. Last year’s woody stems are still visible above the new shoots. Photo: Paul Kirtley

A Badger Latrine

Public footpath sign, trail and stile with badger latrine
As I approached this stile, over the wall, I noticed some disturbance to the ground just to the right of the trail. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Badger poo in a hole
On closer inspection, the disturbance was a latrine. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Badger faeces
It was very definitely badgers and the latrine site extended several metres along the wall, presumably the boundary of their territory. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Badger latrine hole in grass by a wall
There were multiple badger latrine holes such as this along the wall. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Open Country

The badger latrine was in relatively open country, rather than in woods. Indeed, this section of walk was through fields mostly. Later I re-entered some mixed birch and oak woods and I could see down to a section of the River Tees we had canoed a few days earlier.

The trail then led me down towards the river and a footbridge over it. Not long after the bridge were some young butterbur, Petasites hybridus, plants.

View down to moving water with rapids and white water
View down to the river. Photo: Paul Kirtley
butterbur flowers and leaves
Butterbur flowers and young leaves. Photo: Paul Kirtley
wild garlic trail
The trail then took me from fields to woods to fields to woods again. I was on the south side of the river now but this bank was north facing, damp and ideal habitat for wild garlic… Photo: Paul Kirtley
Wild garlic flower against backdrop of wild garlic leaves
Wild garlic coming into flower. These flowers have great flavour. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Pink flowers.
Ladies smock, Cardamine pratensis, in an open field. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The flowers of Honesty, Lunaria annua, an escapee in the cabbage family, Brassicaceae. Note the four petals of the flowers. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The flowers of Honesty, Lunaria annua, an escapee in the cabbage family, Brassicaceae. Note the four petals of the flowers. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Back In The Woods

Being in the woods at this time of year is special. They have an energy, like they are about to pop. Or they are popping. Right now.

Where we run courses in the Sussex, we have a healthy population of bluebells and it has been great to be camped out most of April in bluebell woods seeing the plants develop day by day. When I headed north at the end of April, it was as if I’d jumped in a time machine. All the bluebells up here were weeks behind what I’d experienced in the south (which is also running late compared to the previous few years). So, it has been great to witness the bluebells emerging for a second time this Spring…

Native UK bluebell
In the dappled woods, native bluebells were thriving. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Broom flower
There was also plenty of broom in this section of woods. If you are familiar with the pea family, Fabaceae, you can see the family resemblance here in the flowers. Photo: Paul Kirtley
norway spruce cone remains after squirrel feeding on them
One section of the trail took me through a Norway spruce plantation and there was plenty of evidence of squirrels feeding on the cones, which they consume like corn on the cob… Photo: Paul Kirtley

Crossing the river again, I hiked back up through the woods I’d passed through several hours before, for the first time in this hike retracing my steps. It’s largely a circular route but this section is the beginning/end which takes me back to the start. Going this way, getting a different perspective, I spotted a really good example of the outer bark of honeysuckle, which provides excellent material for birds-nest tinder bundles.

Shaggy bark, hanging off a vine
A great example of the shedding outer bark of honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, which makes an excellent source of tinder for friction fire lighting. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Not long after this, I was back into open fields again, some of which contained sheep, some of which were planted with rapeseed, Brassica napus. These have a very similar four-petalled flower structure to the Honesty, which I saw earlier (and which is included above). Indeed they are both in the cabbage family.

rapeseed field
Field of oilseed rape, Brassica napus. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Rapeseed flowers
Closeup of rapeseed flower, Brassica napus. All the Brassicaceae have this four-petalled cross-shaped flower structure. Photo: Paul Kirtley

This was another great walk in the north east. Within a week there have been changes, which provide clear, visible signs that spring is progressing with pace (see Wild Wanderings 1 here).

Photographic Kit

If you are interested, the photos were taken with a Nikon D800 and a couple of lenses including the lovely, old school Nikon NIKKOR 28mm f/2.8 Lens 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…

Primrose, Primula vulgaris: Wild food?

Conopodium majus: Pignuts and How to Forage for them

Foraging For Early Spring Greens: Some To Eat, Some To Avoid…

Tree and Plant Knowledge Is All Around You

15 thoughts on “Wild Wanderings 2 – Wonderful Woods, Badger Latrines and A Weird Parasite

  1. Hi Paul thanks for another great piece of sharing. Interesting how nature waits until the optimum time to come into force and flower, as you mentioned in your Bluebell observation. I love your enthusiasm and look forward to your gift every week. Your wealth of knowledge is incredible, I appreciate not only the time and effort, but also your willingness to share and educate.
    Your humble on-line student Dave.

  2. love the picture series…it tells me what I need to know…and what I dont know…had been walking the woods and sometimes one just zones out…love the pictures of bluebells, and rapeseed field…yum! nature beckons to me to walk with her again…and each leaf has a name and story to tell.

  3. Thanks Paul, I am really enjoying this new series of yours and today I think you helped me identify a species I filmed but was struggling to put a name to, Cardamine pratensis. It’s like a virtual walk in the woods.

  4. Very nice article. Great to see what’s going on in other regions of the UK especial with explanations from an experienced eye!

    Many thanks

  5. Hi Paul,

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article. It was very educational and has helped put a name to many of the woodland plants I see in many of the woods I walk.

    Thanks again for your time and generosity in sharing so much information….and excellent photographs.

    Kind regards

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed this – I felt I was there. As a girl, I was intrigued by wild flowers and collected samples, pressed and ID d them. You show so many that I haven’t seen for years, as well as some that are new to me. Thank you.

  7. Hi Paul. Great stuff again. Plant pics and little comments are great and save me going to the books when I forget one, also really interesting to compare diversity in your area to mine in Lancashire. Incidental comments and animal signs interesting too. This quick blog format is brilliant as it unfolds along with plants and season. Thanks for sharing, Greg.

  8. Your a lucky man Paul to be able to walk through a wood and see so much really enjoy all your work please keep at it

  9. Really inspirational, thank you! planning a lovely walk in the woods with my children tomorrow and we are going to try out our tracking skills.

  10. Thanks again Paul. Very enjoyable and informative.

  11. Hi Paul, very interesting feature. Love the emphasis on photos.
    Here in Scotland, we have also noticed the way spring flowers are not blooming in succession, but flowering all at once. This is also happening with fruit trees. With this blazing sunshine we have been enjoying of late, we have been taking a lot more walks in the surrounding woodlands and along our nearby river, where otters are making a welcome comeback (one running around the bus stop a few days ago!) and Marsh Marigolds are in full bloom. This morning we tracked the prints of a red deer through some ‘challenging’ trails, challenging because it is a rare thing for humans to walk them and they are covered in fallen branches, etc. Also, as the level of the river drops, found fresh water shrimps living in small pools between rocks.
    Keep up the good work!
    Best Wishes, Debbie

  12. Hi Paul,
    Another excellent learning aid! It is good to see so much observed “in the field” as well as “in the woods”. I sometimes think that bushcrafters can get too focused on woodland habitats, there is plenty of interest out in the pastures, and even on arable filed margins.

    1. Hey Bob,

      It’s good to hear from you. Yes, there is always so much of interest out and about. I love taking the time to slow down and look. It’s like a veil has been dropped.

      Warm regards,


  13. Another useful roll the picture, id the plant, then check the name session Paul 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.