Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Steam trains, herbs and stinging nettle eating...

Tenterden St. Michael's steam railway station was opened in 1912 to serve the local community of St.Michael's on the outskirts of Tenterden in Kent.

The station was little more than a halt station (a small station, usually unstaffed with few or no facilities).
By 1938 the ticket office had already closed, and passengers had to purchase a ticket on-board the train.
By 1953 it had fallen into 'a dangerous and decrepit state' with the platform sleepers having seriously deteriorated.

Regular passenger services were withdrawn on the line on Saturday 2nd January 1954 and the 40 year 'reign of the train' was over.

The line today. The station was once on left of picture.

As the picture above shows, today there is no trace of the railway and it's now a footpath and cycleway.
The old rusting rails and rotting railway sleepers have long gone, and have been replaced with tarmacadam. Nature has begun to reclaim the site too and now the track is lined with all manner of wild flowers and plants.

That also provides me with a terrific habitat for seeking out bugs and insects.
At this time of year (mid-April) the promise of things to come is a joy. Already I've spotted wild red campion, mullein, early orchids, bluebells, ragwort, scabious etc. With the first flush of flowering shrubs and plants has come the butterflies and moths, as well as hoverflies, bees and beetles.

This walk will become a regular haunt as the year and seasons progress with new species appearing all the time.

In places, the course of the old railway line is surprisingly diverse regards both elevation and route and has had me wondering if the Victorian/Edwardian workmen that built this line had been imbibing moonshine or something similar? Perhaps more likely, home made dandelion wine?

A fledgling robin was not something I was expecting to see today. I know robins can nest as early as January but I've not seen any youngsters before at least May until now.

The little bird that I spotted today must have been around 2 weeks old at a guess. I wouldn't have expected to find it on the ground before reaching that age, and it was reasonably adept at flying too, so that tells me it probably wasn't pushed or had fallen out of it's nest.

Incubation period is around a fortnight as well and so that means that this family was probably started back in March.

Young Robin

It's a sad fact of nature that nearly three-quarters of young robins die before they are one year old, most of them being caught by predators. The ones lucky enough to survive will establish their own territories before winter.

Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema arthritis, gout, and anaemia.
It seems that nettles release a chemical that irritates the skin on contact but if they come into contact with a painful area, they can actually ease the pain.

In June of this year the Annual World Nettle- Eating Championships take place in Dorset U.K.

What's all this pre-amble leading too?
Well, I'm not considering becoming a contestant in said competition, in case you were wondering. No, it's nothing more than a blatant attempt to keep you interested by 'bigging-up' the humble nettle. What I really wanted to convey is just that this little, prolific garden weed, is host to hundreds of bugs throughout the summer months and is exactly where I found the next tiny specimen.

Having gone to the trouble of inserting all of this extra and interesting information regards nettles, I have to report that by the time I'd made enough noise to waken the dead by setting myself in a suitable place to take a photograph, the bug had vacated its sunny spot on nettle, and transferred to a blade of grass.

To which 'bug' do I refer? Why the Dark Bush Cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera)
of course!
To be more accurate a dark bush cricket nymph. There are no adults around as yet. They will appear around July time and be with us until winter.

These are a native British species but do seem to be confined to the bottom half of the country, unless they fall in to the familiar 'under-recorded' section.

Bush Cricket nymph (4mm)

Another native plant that I forgot to include in my original list is Jack-By-The-Hedge (Alliaria petiolata) also known as Garlic Mustard because the leaves smell of garlic if rubbed or crushed,can be used as a sandwich-filler and the seed pods can be eaten as a snack.
It was to be seen in all stages of development today, from just emerging shoots, to fully flowering plants. This plant plays host to some small shield bugs that can correctly be referred to as any of the following:Rape Bug-Crucifer Shield Bug-Cabbage Bug, or as I prefer to call them, Brassica Bugs.

These are around 5-7mm long and of a metallic appearance. They over-winter in leaf litter and re-emerge in the spring.There is one generation in the north and two in the warmer south.
white to red depending on age/maturity.

As with all of the reflective or metallic looking bugs and insects, they represent something of a challenge to the macro photographer. Reflections being the main problem.
A flash diffuser helps, unless you do as I did today and drop your diffuser without noticing whilst loading the car! Then you're forced to use the rather harsh, on-board flash as a poor substitute.
That's how the photo below was taken and because of my stupidity over the 'proper' diffuser, the quality of the shot isn't as it should be, or at least, as I would wish it to be.

Brassica Bug

The 'red' version

And finally, as they say on all of the best T.V. News broadcasts...

There's a plant that we all know (by 'we' I mean, those of us here in the U.K. I'm unsure if this occurs outside of our country) this one, as with most others has it's fair share (or more) of pseudo names that include: Clivers, Goosegrass, Stickywilly,Stickyjack, Stickyweed, Stickyleaf, Catchweed, Robin-run-the-hedge and Coachweed.

I however,like to call it Cleavers. I don't go out of my way to be different. That's just the name I've always known it by.
Most folks will know it for the little, fine hairs tipped with hooks that make it cling so annoyingly to clothes and fur, like a kind of natural velcro.

As an ardent coffee nut (no pun intended) I was amused to read when researching the herbaceous annual that when dried & roasted, the fruits can be used to make a 'coffee-like' drink.
Not wishing to segregate tea drinkers in any way, it can also be made into tea.

To get back to the story (who shouted "about time"?) sunning itself on one of these plants was a smallish bee. I'm fairly sure that it was a miner bee of the 'Andrena species' but bees are not my strong point regards identity.

A pretty thing that seemed reluctant to become the next star of one of these blogs and insisted on hiding itself away from view, with just it's head protruding over the leaf it was on, no matter how I tried to encourage it otherwise.

And so, to paraphrase Walt Disney, "That's all folks" or as veteran radio broadcaster Brain Matthew would say..."That's your lot for this week, see you next week"
I'm hoping that it won't be as long as a week before my next posting, then again I recall saying that many times in the past but somehow time always beats me.

Until the next time then...


  1. I love the way your pictures told a story and taught us some of the history of your area. Thanks :)

  2. That Bush Cricket nymph is beautiful! So elegant.


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