Children Nature Walk-July part one

 The stories are taken from the book 'Walks of a Country Naturalist' {with his children} not in copyright and courtesy of the Gutenberg Project. The book was written by the Rev. Houghton who was based in Shropshire {England},in the 1800's. where necessary I have added information as for an example if species names have changed and other relevant information,otherwise the wording is as it is produced in the book. I have also added images with the relevant licenses. The ones with no license are taken from the book.

Our story begins-----

Our family are once again  heading up onto the moors where we join them.------

Let us have another stroll on the moors.We pass over a small brook on the way ,and of course stop on the bridge and loo into the little rivulet.What do I see about four yards off in the shade? A number of small dark patches which I recognize at once as one of our most beautiful fresh water algae. we will gather some from the bottom. There ! the little tufts are attached to the upper sides of the stones. When taken out of the water,the plant look and feels like a mass of very dark jelly.I will float apiece out into this bottle of water. Did you anything more beautiful ?. It consists of a number of delicate branches,each arranged in a bead like row,and from a certain resemblance which these beaded rows bear to frog spawn,as well as from their jelly like consistency,this alga has received the name of Batrochospermum,which translates as 'frogs spawn'. If we take some home and spread it out on a piece of drying paper,separating  the numerous beaded branches one from the other with the point of a needle,and leave it to dry gradually,we shall see a very pretty object indeed.

As you may suppose the plant is a most charming object under the microscope." Do you think",asked Willy " it would do in my aquarium"? I have several times tried in  an aquarium. It would live for a few days;then gradually loose colour and break to pieces.The fact is,as Dr.Hassall says,,these plants " inhabit the most pure and running waters;being usually met with in the fountains,wells and streams,the force of which is not considerable. The frogspawn alga therefore,will not thrive in anything but the purest water,and a gentle flow is necessary to its growth and health. " These plants are so exceedingly flexible", Dr,Hassall continues " That they obey the slightest motion of  the fluid that surrounds them, and would seem almost to endowed with vitality,nothing can surpass the ease and grace of their movements.When they are moved from the water they lose all form,and appear like jelly without trace of organisation. On immersion,however, the branches again quickly assume their former disposition. They adhere strongly to paper,and in drying frequently  change to some other tint usually much deeper; after being moistened after long intervals they recover much of their original freshness;and it is even asserted that,having lain in the herbarium for some years,when they are replaced in water in a suitable locality,they will vegetate like before"

This last assertion I must say I do not credit. I shall never forget the delight I felt when I first made the acquaintance  of this curious and graceful alga. From the eyes of how many people are its charms hidden! It is only those that look closely that would notice  the little jelly-like tufts growing modestly in shaded places for the most part.This species,however,is common enough in gently flowing and shallow streams,and we may often come across it in our rambles if we take the trouble to use our eyes. There are other extremely beautiful forms of fresh water algae.



Courtesy of B.Naves Creative CommCladophora.JPGons Attribution 2.5 generic license


Here in the same stream is Cladophora glomerata. I use as few hard words as possible,but I cannot help using them sometimes,as many objects have no English names. this alga is also attached to the stones and floats out with the current sometimes two feet in length,and, like the frogspawn alga,is fond of pure water, but I have often kept  the Cladophora alive in perfect health in an aquarium for weeks together.Its deep refreshing green colour and graceful form,make it a very desirable acquisition  for the aquarium.

I break off a small bit. Now see its beautiful branched form. Do you remember a small round ball about the size of a small apple which I have at home well that ball which came from Ellesmere is nothing else but a mass of this same Cladophora. Dr,Hassall  is in no doubt correct in his explanation of the formation of these balls. He says, " This state of Cladophora glomerata I believed is formed as follows. A specimen by the force of some mountain stream swollen by recent rains becomes forced from its attachment,and is carried along by the current, it is made to revolve repeatedly upon itself,until at last a compact ball is formed of it,which finally becomes deposited in some basin or reservoir  in which the stream loses itself and in which these balls are usually found"

Here are some specimens in the water of a rich brown colour instead of green. This caused by growth of some other algae over its long branches. See I shake a bit in my bottle,and you see a quantity of brown deposit comes off,showing the green threads of the Cladophora underneath. This brown deposit looks to you,I dare say,very uninteresting. I will show you some under the microscope  when we get home,and you will see many extremely beautiful forms. These are known by the names of  Diatomaceoe and Desmidioe {now known as Diatoms} I will not tell you more of them at present,but a picture which I will show you will give you the forms of some of these microscopic plants.

Circle of Diatoms on a plate under the microscope

Courtesy of  Wipeter Creative Commons attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported license


Here we are once more on the wild moors. There is really nothing 'wild 'about them now;cultivation has turned them into excellent pasturage;the epithet,too, is a corruption of weald,signifying a wood. But this whole district extending from Longdon-upon-Tern to Aqualate,was once, there is no doubt,covered with water. Perhaps it was the bed of a large lake a great many years ago;the soil;you see;is composed of peat varying in thickness in different parts,and below the peat is often found sand and pebbles,which looks as if it once was the bottom of a vast lake ten miles or more long and three broad. The village of Kinnersly was evidently once an island,and you can now see the moors extending all around it.Once,then, the whole district was covered with water,but about two hundred years ago it was covered with wood.


" Oh ! Papa,did you see that ?" said Jack," A hawk pounced upon a small bird and has taken him into that fir tree,where he is eating him" It is a kestrel,one of the commonest of the British hawks,and which we may often see in this district,but I am afraid those destructive animals called gamekeepers will in time succeed in destroying every hawk in the neighbourhood. " Well, but papa" said Willy, " do they not do a great deal of harm to young partridges and pheasants and of course the gamekeeper will not stand for that?"

I dare say;indeed I have no doubt that the kestrel will occasionally seize upon a young partridge,but it is also certain that mice form the principal form of its food. Remains of mice,shrews,beetles,lizards have been found in the kestrel's stomach;and I am sure it would be a great pity to seek to exterminate this handsome and attractive bird. " is this the hawk that you very often see hovering steadily in the air over one spot ? " ,asked May Yes it is and from this habit they got the name windhover, the out spread tail is suspended and the head always points in the direction of the wind. The sparrowhawk I occasionally see and now and then the merlin, a beautiful little fellow of great courage, the sparrowhawk is much greater enemy to young birds than the kestrel, and ought not to be allowed to increase where game or poultry are reared, so bold are these birds that they will not unfrequently  skim over a poultry yard ,seize a young chicken and carry it off. Have you ever heard the cry of terror an old hen utters when a hawk is seen in the air bear her little brood?

Mr. Gould gives the following anecdote of a sparrowhawk  as related to him by a friend.----

" Three or four years since I was driving towards Dover, when suddenly a sparrowhawk, with a stoop like a falcon's, struck a lark close to my horse's head . The lark fell as a grouse or a partridge will fall  to a falcon or tiercel {peregrine falcon}, and the sparrowhawk did not attempt to carry,but held on his way. I jumped down and picked up the body of the lark and the head,the two being disunited. The velocity and speed of the stoop must have been tremendous. I have often see grouse and partridges ripped up the back and neck and the skull laid bare, but I never saw a head being taken clean off before"

A sparrowhawk has been known to chase a finch through the legs of a man, and to dash through a window pane  with the intention of seizing some cage bird. " What was that very large bird, papa" said Willy that you noticed near Eyton last November? It was one of the hawk family was it not?". Yes I have no doubt it was the common buzzard, though it would not allow me to get very near it.; but I watched from a distance for some time. It would remain on a tree for some time,and then take a slow flight away, returning again to some tree. Buzzards are not so nearly as active flyers and bold birds as the smaller kinds of hawk.

Though I said it was the common buzzard,you must not suppose the bird is very common,it is called common because it is the species most frequently seen in this country. Mr Yarrel in his book on 'British Birds',has given the figure of a buzzard nursing and feeding a brood of young chickens. Is that not a curious thing?.

He says the extreme  partiality of the common buzzard to the seasonal task of incubation and rearing young birds has exemplified in various instances. A few years back a female buzzard,kept in the garden of the Chequers Inn at Uxbridge,showed an inclination to sit by collecting and bending all the loose sticks she could gain possession of. Her owner, noticing her actions, supplied her with materials. She completed her nest and sat on two hens' eggs, which she hatched, and afterwards reared the young, since then she has hatched and brought up a brood of chickens every year.

" She indicates her desire to sit by scratching holes in the ground and breaking and tearing everything within her reach. One summer, in order to save her the fatigue of sitting,some young chickens just hatched were put down to her,but she destroyed the whole. Her family, in June,1839, consisted of nine, the original number was ten,but one had been lost."

" When flesh was given to her she was very assiduous in tearing it and offering it as food to her nurselings, and appeared uneasy, if, after taking small portions from her ,they turned away to pick up grain."

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Courtesy of Mike Medcalf  Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0  license

 What is this little mouse-like thing in the grass ? how quickly it runs. Now I have got him No ! off again,burrowing under the grass roots. Now I have him safe enough;he cannot bite me with this glove on. Look at the little rogue,with his soft,short,silky fur and long nose. See how flexible that pointed nose is;how useful in grubbing among the closest herbage,or under the surface of the soil. How sharp are the little creature's teeth. With them he eats worms and larvae of  various kinds of insects. Well, what is its name ? It is the common shrew, and though the form of the body is mouse shaped,it is, properly speaking,not a mouse at all, being much more related to the mole.

It is said that shrews are very fond of fighting, and if two be confined together in a box,the stronger will conquer the weaker then eat it. Moles are said to eat their small relatives,but I have never had any evidence of the fact ,though it is probable enough.. May wanted to know if cats eat shrews. I have often tried cats with dead shrews , and have always found they will not touch them. I dare say,however, that they would no doubt kill them. The smell of the shrew is unpleasant as you may find out from this little fellow I hold in my hand. Mind he does not bite your nose. Now we have examined him I shall let him go. It is no pleasure to take an animals life;and as this little shrew does no harm but good destroying insect larvae,it would be a shame to hurt him.Where injurious creatures must be killed,let us always be careful to take away life so as to cause the least possible pain.

Now would any of you have ever though that the little shrew I have just released had ever been supposed to be one of the most dangerous enemy to cattle?. This was really once believed by our ancestors,who thought that a shrew,by running over the backs of cattle,made them weak in the loins, and that its bite made a beast swell at the heart and die. Absurd as was the belief, the supposed cure for the injury was ,if possible,still more ridiculous. It consisted in passing  over the cow's back the twigs of a shrew ash. " Now a 'shrew ash " says Gilbert White," is an ash  whose twigs or branches when applied to the limbs of cattle will immediately relieve the pains which a beast suffers from the running of a shrew mouse over the part affected,for it is supposed that a shrew-mouse is of so baneful and deleterious a nature,that wherever it creeps over a beast,be it a horse,cow or sheep,the suffering animal is afflicted with cruel anguish and is threatened with the loss of the use of that limb. Against this accident ,to which they were continually liable, our provident forefathers always kept a shrew ash at hand which, when once medicated, would keep its virtue forever."

" A shrew ash was made thus; into the body of a tree a deep hole was bored with an auger, and a poor devoted shrew-mouse was thrust in alive, and plugged in,no doubt with several quaint incantations long since forgotten"  It is marvelous how people could ever have believed such stuff, but equal absurdities are still accepted by many people to this very day; so strong a old on men's minds have the kindred vices of superstition and ignorance.

Shrews. Public domain wiki-commons.


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