Wild Wanderings 10 – Dormant Detail

Wild Wanderings 10 – Dormant Detail

Short days and frigid weather mean many of the plants and trees we are surrounded by in the warmer months of the year are dormant in the winter. The landscape is populated by bare trees and skeletal plant remains. There is, however, still much detail in this dormancy. We can continue to work on our tree and plant identification skills through these winter days…

I headed out for a walk on a bright but freezing day in the north east of England. I was greeted by the alarm calls of blackbirds and the curiosity of robins. I could hear wrens chastising me from briars and, in the distance, crows and a buzzard were locked in a dogfight. There is still plenty of life here, even if it is hard at this time of year.

The ground was frozen hard underfoot, a pleasantly firm alternative to the sloppy mud which might have been present a few degrees the other side of zero Celsius. Where vegetation had not been touched by the weak rays of the low sun, it was covered in hoar frost, built up over a number of days where temperatures had stayed below freezing. Elsewhere in the country, both further south as well as north of here, snow was being received. Here, in a pocket of clear, cold air, we remained free of snow and all the detail around me was on show. I share some of what caught my eye in this photoblog…

The photos here were all taken on 9 December 2017, in County Durham, U.K.

Stems of rosebay willowherb with seeds
Rosebay willowherb, a.k.a. Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium, long gone to seed but still standing tall. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
nettle stem with old flowers
Frozen in time. The dead stem of a stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, complete with remains of flowers/seeds. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Old raspberry stem
Lots of detail here. The robust stem of a raspberry plant, Rubus idaeus, still standing as they typically do over winter. This one has wizened fruits still attached though. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Boots on frosty ground.
Frosty underfoot with the frozen ground pleasantly firm. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Goosegrass strewn over a fence
Strands of Galium aparine adorn the fence it used to grow up and over. This plant has many common names including goosegrass, cleavers and sticky-willy. Amongst other things, this makes a good winter birds nest tinder bundle for taking an ember to flame. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Larch cones
Also caught on the same fence a little further along, a small dead branch of European larch, Larix decidua, complete with cones, which are always want to persist on the branches. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Ivy in flower
The seasons provide no bounds for this flowering ivy, Hedera helix. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
umbrella like structure of old apiaceae
The skeletal remains of the flower umbel of common hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Foxglove stem with seeds
This upright stem of foxglove, Digitalis purpurea stood nearly 6ft/2 metres tall. Where the beautiful purple bell-shaped flowers once were, now the seeds, marking the end of the two-year life cycle of this biennial plant. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
wild rose hips
Some welcome winter colour from the hips of this wild rose. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
beech leaves on tree in winter
Dead leaves persisting on the branches of young beech, Fagus sylvatica, is very characteristic. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
winged seeds
Dangling “helicopter” seeds of sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
rowan buds and bark
The furry buds of rowan or mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia against the silvery bark of the same tree in the background. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
hawhtorn haws red a against a dark background.
Last bastions of the late summer spray of crimson colour provided by common hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Frosty bramble leaves
Some greenery still here, beneath the frost. Leaves and thorny stem of bramble, Rubus fruticosus. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Garlic mustard plant stems with old seed pods
Stems of garlic mustard, a.k.a. Jack-by-the-Hedge, Alliaria petiolata, holding aloft deserted seed pods. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
hazel catkins in winter
Stubby catkins of hazel, Corylus avellana, already present and waiting for spring before they extend. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
dead bracken.
Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum being shown off to its bronze best in the last of the day’s light. This is a great winter fire-lighting resource. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
common ash buds in winter
Upturned shoots with black buds can only mean one thing – common ash, Fraxinus excelsior. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
beech mast and buds
A lone husk of beech nuts hangs from the branches of this large common beech, Fagus sylvatica. Also note the long, pointy buds. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
snowberries on dark bushes
Snowberries, in the Symphoricarps genus, part of the honeysuckle family, provide a splash of white on these dark, naked bushes. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Footsteps in frosty grass
There’s always time for a bit of tracking. Following my own footsteps in the frost back across some fields as the sun dropped below the horizon. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Photographic Kit

The above photos were taken with my beloved Nikon D800. It was a day where I restricted myself to only one lens and my choice was simple in taking a 50mm, giving a field of view similar to what we see (i.e. not wide angle and not zoom). Everyone needs a 50mm and my favourite at the moment is the Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AF-S. The slight downside with this lens for capturing tree and plant detail is that the close focusing distance is a minimum of 45cm. Despite this, having a high quality, fast lens on a winter’s day has advantages. 50mm lenses tend to be inexpensive but don’t let the low price tag fool you. This is a very good lens.

Want To Improve Your Tree and Plant Identification?

At the heart of bushcraft is a practical study of nature. If you want to use the right resources for the job, whether making cordage or feeding yourself, you first have to learn to identify the right species. For these reasons, tree and plant identification has always been a core component of how I teach bushcraft and survival. I have a dedicated online training course in tree and plant ID for bushcraft and survival. Enrolment opens once per year. If you’d like to find out more, click here: http://identificationmasterclass.com/

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.

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog

Wild Wanderings 9 – Gottröra, Sweden

Rosebay Willowherb: Taking The Pith

Know Your Ash From Your Elbow: How To Identify An Ash Tree

Bark & Buds: How to Easily Identify 12 Common European Deciduous Trees in Winter

21 thoughts on “Wild Wanderings 10 – Dormant Detail

  1. I surprised my self and only got one of your photos wrong the raspberries .plants are so different when they are naked

  2. I surprised my self and only got one of your photos wrong the raspberries .plants are so different when they are naked ps i like to have the Latin names as well another thing to learn.

  3. Thanks for sharing Paul, had to chuckle with the “sticky-willy” name.

  4. great paul my favourite time of year to be out and about

  5. Enjoyed that Paul, it had a poetic feel to it as well as being informative.

  6. Great blog and makes the point well that all is not dead at this time of Year

  7. Hi Paul
    Another great article, just shows you what is out there even at this time of year if you take the time to look and have the knowledge. Brilliant

  8. good photography lack of depth of field works wonders to keep your attention went out for a walk over the chase the deer were everywhere foraging for food rangers put out for them i love this time of year this is how it used to be instead of ground frosts and warm weather keep up your good work paul interesting as always need to brush up my skills in latin brian

  9. Greetings from the South Hemisphere, Paul. I’m literally dripping sweat down here, and this edition of your Wild Wanderings series is especially refreshing. Loved it from start to finish!

  10. Hello Paul,

    What an excellent article, with beautiful photographs. I have been a keen photographer for 65 years and loved every one of your images. I have used Nikon equipment pretty well all of my life and agree with you that a 50mm lens is the perfect optic for the job you have undertaken – as is proved by the quality of your photographs.

    Kind Regards,

    Ted Hillman.

  11. Lovely photos! I really should unpack my old camera sometime and start taking a few pics.
    By the way… Did you or anyone else notice something a little different in some of the flowering Hawthorns this year?
    Myself and a friend had been actively looking for pink and red forms of Crataegus locally for the past 3 years. We thought we had come to know where every white one was and had mourned the loss of a particularly fine reddish-pink form that was felled by the Forestry Commission – it had been the only one of its kind that we’d known of in the area and the idea was to increase its number by collecting berries.
    So imagine our surprise this spring when all around us, many of the Hawthorns were flowering a distinctive salmon-pink colour, including those trees that grow to either side of the track to my house.
    We can’t make up our minds whether perhaps the mild winter of last year had caused a colour change, or whether the very warm early spring was responsible. Or perhaps something else was going on?
    I found some small reference online to something called the Midland Hawthorn that ‘might’ occasionally change its colour. I’m not sure about this because the article was rather vague. Have you seen something of this nature happening to your local Hawthorns?

    1. Hi Debbie, interesting. It’s not something I noticed this year but I’ll be interested to read of anyone else’s observations.

      Warm regards,


  12. Thanks for the continuing education you so generously provide. Great photographs as always. Appreciate all the little “nuggets” you add in. You continue to ignite my desire to get out more and immerse myself in the wilderness. Thanks for sharing.

    Paul Bonner

  13. Firstly thanks for your continuous dedicated work Paul, I really liked this winter blog because it drew attention to what’s actually still around me as I trudge through the countryside, often thinking more about the cold and wet than why I am really there, I also like the before mentioned nuggets

  14. Paul, you are so descriptive in all this article. I feel to nick-name you: “The Bard of Bushcraft”.

    Excellent articles.


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