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Posted by on in Wildlife

We had our first snowfall of winter last weekend. Doesn’t it look lovely? The site was covered in footprints left by the local wildlife; robins, crows, rabbits and a fox. We managed to catch a glimpse of the fox on camera in the early hours of the morning as she passed by the front of the lecture hall. The other set of paw prints above hers belong to a very brave rabbit!

We would have made a post a bit sooner, but have had some technical difficulties.

Tagged in: Fox Snow Weather Wildlife
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Posted by on in The Sky

Continuing our theme of interesting things in the sky it would seem that these crisp autumn days are just perfect for observing shimmers of colour on the clouds in the sky. It is also nice to be able to share these with friends and family who have never seen them before.

While taking a well-earned tea break this weekend my parents and I spotted a rather nice pair of sundogs. We admired them for a few moments when I suggested that the cloud conditions looked to be just right for a circumzenithal arc. We all turned our gaze upwards and right on cue… a faint curve like an upside- down rainbow grinned down at us. As CZAs are formed from the same ice crystals that sundogs are made from it is always worth taking a glance upwards to see if there is one smiling down.

The following day we saw a rather nice iridescent cloud, which we managed to photograph for the first time. In addition to the cloud being fairly thin, the water droplets in the cloud have to be the same size in order for the diffraction effect to be seen. We have observed iridescence several times from WV, although it is apparently uncommon.   It is amazing what you see if you just take the time to look up once in a while.

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Posted by on in The Sky






It seems to be our week for spotting interesting things in the sky.  First the aurora, then the solar halo and now this weird structure.  It looks like something you would expect to see in  ‘Close Encounters’ or the ‘X files’.

This cloud formation is a rather impressive fallstreak hole (also known as hole punch cloud or cloud hole).  These are apparently fairly rare and can often be mistaken for UFOs.  The exact process of their formation is not fully understood but is believed to be caused when water droplets in the cloud start to freeze into ice crystals, sticking together and becoming heavier before finally dropping below the cloud as ‘fallstreak’.  This process is started when aircraft pass through the cloud, which causes the water to cool down enough to freeze.  The result is quite impressive.

Tagged in: Clouds The Sky Weather
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Posted by on in Astronomy



Wal and I photographed this lovely Lunar halo the other night. The Moon was one day from being full and lit the sky and the clouds beautifully. This 220 halo is formed by moonlight being refracted by ice crystals in the clouds.  We often see full or partial halos around the Sun (or sundogs, arcs and other optical phenomena) but this is the first Lunar halo that we have managed to photograph.  It persisted for a few short minutes before gradually fading away.

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Posted by on in Wildlife




Wal and I have seen lots of these lovely red- orange Soldier Beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) around. There are several species of Soldier Beetle and these are apparently the most common and easy to identify with their dark coloured tails and feet. They are usually found in pairs – mating pairs- which has led to their rather amusing nickname the ‘bonking beetle’.  

Wal has been making excellent progress at fencing off other parts of the site for our neighbours. Our own fencing has given the flora and fauna a chance to flourish undisturbed by the sheep; I wonder what else will appear in the future?

Finally, I also found a new (to WV) species of plant behind the pond which has taken a while to identify, mainly due to the fact that I was looking up wildflowers. We are not quite sure how Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) made it to the top o’ the hill but it is doing well. (Wal argues that it is called Love-in-the-mist, can someone settle this for us?)

Hours of Fun!

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

This is an update to the previous post as for some reason, the photographs I wanted to share would not upload. The problem is fixed now...

Here is a link to the orginal article


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Posted by on in Uncategorized

I had a nice little stroll up the moor to the Sandy Road Colliery spoil heap on Saturday. I was meeting Alison Tymon from the West Yorkshire Geology Trust as she was leading a geology walk around the moor.* It was also a good excuse for a poke around the spoil to see what I could find (do I really need an excuse? wink).

It was pleasing that a nice sized group of interested people attended the walk, including many youngsters armed with magnifying glasses and plenty of enthusiasm.

Alison stressed the importance of the site for its geology, especially the coal balls. While there are many places in the Lancashire and West Yorkshire coalfields that these fossils can be found, they have all now been covered up by housing and other developments. Tod moor is now the only place in the UK, and one of only two places in Europe where they can be found (the other site is in the Ukraine).

Alison also asked to check any coal balls that people found for fish fossils, as these are especially important and rare. Unfortunately no one found any of these but there were plenty of small coal ball fragments as well as rocks containing goniatites and other shells. One gentleman dug up a rather nice lump of ironstone that looked rather like Mickey Mouse.

After a good hour of searching and digging everyone had found something of interest to them and the children all left clutching a rock sample to remind themselves of the day.

Hours of Fun.

The fossils on the Sandy Road spoil heap are a finite resource and of international importance. If you find something of interest please contact WYGT www.wyorksgeologytrust.org or get in touch with Nettie via our Contact Us page.

*Organised by Calderdale County Council.

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Photo shared by on in Wildlife

Wal, JK and I went for a wander around our ‘estate’ today to see what we could see. First off a streak of brown and some frantic squeaking heralded the appearance of one of the ‘squeaky sausages’ in a rock pile on North Woodlands! It seems that the weasel family has made their home in here as their squeaking has been heard on and off for several weeks. However this is the first time that JK and I have caught a close up look at them.

Next we spotted several owl pellets dotted around. These have become much more common over the last year or so. We think that they are from the Little Owl (Athene noctua) that Wal sighted recently. Clearly the local mice and voles have more than just the weasels to worry about.

South Woodlands is looking amazing and the trees are really coming into their own. The Rowans are covered in orange berries and the Oaks have tiny acorns appearing.  The wood was alive with wiggling caterpillars on nettles, rabbits dashing through the undergrowth and bees visiting the Willow-herb flowers.   Not looking so bad for a four-year-old plantation.  

Finally, hiding in one of the gates was this beautifully camouflaged moth.  We have tentatively identified it as a Pale-shouldered Brocade (Lacanobia thalassina). It is nice to see so much wildlife around the site.


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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Last weekend, Wal and I played host to some old friends who we have not seen for some time. While we have kept in touch on and off for the last 20 years or so, they have not been up to Woodlands View since Wal and I took on the project.

Our guests, Florence and Kenneth Wood, were amongst the first people to attend the astronomy courses that were run by Linda Simonian in the 1990s. As it turns out they were putting their astronomical learning to amazing use and even invited Linda to work closely with them on a very exciting venture.

Florence and Kenneth are the authors of Homer’s Secret Iliad and Homer’s Secret Odyssey. These books are based on years of research undertaken by Edna Leigh, Florence’s mother, and by Florence and Kenneth themselves in order to unlock the astronomical knowledge that has been hidden within the epics for millennia.

"Homer’s epics ‘represent an ancient people’s thoughts related to the science of astronomy and expressed in the form of elaborate narrative poetry'."

For more information please follow the link www.epicstars.org.uk

It was wonderful to be able to show them around Woodlands View and we can modestly report that they had a splendid visit and were very impressed with everything that we have achieved.

We would just like to express our gratitude to a couple of generous and well respected friends for sharing their stories with us.

Hours of Fun.





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Posted by on in Wildlife

OK, so it's not really a pterodactyl, but it's probably the next best thing: Our 'resident' Heron.

We've had lots of sightings over the years of visiting Herons, but (as usual) we've never had a camera to hand when we needed it most. But today was the day when we finally captured an image of this magnificent bird and we can add it to our official 'resident wildlife list'.


Tagged in: Birds Environment
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Posted by on in Microscapes

In an earlier post I asked why certain diatoms moved when they had no need to search for food and no need to find a partner to reproduce. A recent enquiry to the 'Amateur Diatomist' website has resulted in this very informative reply:

"Lots has been written about the mechanism of diatom motility but little about why they might need to move. Whilst I am not qualified to explain all the reasons for their behaviour a couple of observable examples might suffice to set you on the right track....

Consider the episammic (living on sand) or the epipelon (living on mud) species where their habitat is governed by the tides. When the tide is in the diatoms can be found on the surface of their chosen substrate, when the tide goes out they are found within their substrate. They have moved to ensure they do not dessicate. Another example are those species found living on rocks in streams. They coat the upper surface of, say, a pebble. Should a storm suddenly cause the flow to increase to such a degree that it turns that pebble the diatoms will move to upper surface when things quieten down. This latter example can be observed by turning a colonised pebble by hand and returning the next day.
I hope these simple examples provide you with an answer (at least in part). Steve."
For anyone interested in diatom studies you'll find lots of useful information on the Amateur Diatomist website. www.diatoms.co.uk
Tagged in: Diatom Environment
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Posted by on in Wildlife

Throughout April and May we have been monitoring something truly wonderful. A pair of Mistle Thrushes building a nest, laying eggs, and raising a new family.

At first we were unsure whether they had chosen a good spot to do this. The nest was built on one of the gateposts at the entrance to Woodlands View, about 4 feet off the ground, in plain sight of anyone (and anything) that cared to look their way. Very cleverly the parents had tied the nest to the gatepost to stop it being blown away and the egg-laying began. Five eggs in total, all of which hatched.

We are pleased to announce that all five of the chicks survived and grew to become fully fledged birds.

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Posted by on in Microscapes

The spring collection of diatoms from Midgleden Brook show no significant changes to the diatom populations previously surveyed. Site 1 is the least populated, with specimens being primarily naviculoid (boat-shaped) and generally quite small. Site 2 is definately the most populated, with the greatest number of species and sizes ranging from small to very large. Site 3 results lay somewhere between the other two sites.

This trend is reflected in the results of the invertebrate study which also shows Site 2 to be the healthiest of the three sites. However, the recent loss of specimens in the invertebrate populations is not reflected in the diatom study. Whatever it was that affected the invertebrates it has not had any noticable effect on the diatoms.

Fascinating stuff. Cheerio for now. JK cool


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It has been a bit chilly ‘round these parts just recently so you have to be pretty hardy - or enthusiastic - to go out observing when there is snow lying on the ground.  Perhaps it was the cold air that sent shivers down my spine but it was defiantly rather spooky out at night with a waxing moon rising and a fox yelping out on the moors somewhere.  Then, looking back at my photographs of Orion I see a ghostly human form! She moves position between two frames and then vanishes, never to be seen again.  There was no one else on the plateau with me, and I would certainly have noticed someone standing in shot- especially as there are streetlights illuminating the scene.  There are also weird jellyfish or sprites in several shots that could not been seen with the naked eye.  Is Woodlands View haunted?

Err, no.

The jellyfish are caused by lens flare (they appear and disappear depending on whether the streetlights are in shot) and the ghost is me. I love photobombing long exposure shots!

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Posted by on in Microscapes

The diatom samples collected a couple of days ago by Nettie and Wal bring an end to the preliminary study and, hopefully, I'm now organised enough to begin the study proper.

I've just received (today) a new lens for my microscope which gives me x600 magnification (images to date have been x400) so future images will be more detailed and therefore more useful. I've also been studying a couple of new text books that have prompted me to make some small adjustments to my working practices. The delay in the start of the proper study will also give me an opportunity to practice with my x1000 (oil immersion) lens which is a procedure I've never done before. Fingers crossed for that.

Having said all that I'm pleased to announce that I can now answer some rather obvious questions, with equally obvious answers, as well as offering some tentative suggestions as to what's going on with the diatoms of Midgelden Brook. So, are there diatoms in the brook and can we find them? Yes to both. Are there a few species present or many? Even with my limited knowledge I can say there are definately many species present. Can any differences be noted between the three sites being sampled? Yes. The preliminary study indicates that there are differences.

SITE 1: Diatoms sparce. Limited number of genera. Specimens generally small. No colonies observed.

SITE 2: Diatoms common/abundant. Good number of genera. Specimens small to extremely large. Colonies observed.

SITE 3: Diatoms common/abundant. Good number of genera. Specimens small to large. Colonies observed.

Between 20 and 30 images have been collected from each site sampled and permanant slides have been made for each site. The images presented above are offered to give a 'broad strokes' feel for the diatom populations at each site.

The diatomic study is already proving to be as much fun as it was hoped it would be. Very educational as well as entertaining (at least for me) and over time the slide collection should become a useful resource for the Woodlands View Education project, as well as for future study by diatom experts. I hope you are also enjoying this journey into the microscopic world of the diatom. Cheerio for now, JK.

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Posted by on in Microscapes

The next installment of the Diatom Survey should be along in the next few days. While you're waiting for it to arrive, here's a little video that is not only entertaining, but I think is also rather thought-provoking.

Diatoms are single-celled organisms that get their energy from the Sun via photosynthesis, so they don't need to hunt for food. If they don't live in colonies where they attach to others of their kind they don't need to search for friends. They reproduce by binary fission, dividing into two daughter cells each with one half of the diatom shell and each daughter then makes the other half for itself, so they don't need to search for a partner.

So why do diatoms move? Even though their meanderings do seem rather aimless there must be some reason for it, but I admit, I cannot come up with a sensible suggestion for it. Perhaps you can. If you know, or find out, then please feel free to contact me: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Here are a small collection of motile diatoms. Enjoy.


Tagged in: Diatom
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Posted by on in Microscapes

It's not actually the diatoms that I've been dancing with, but the microscope imaging software has been leading me on a merry dance indeed. Having sorted out the calibration routine I'm now able to measure very accurately in microns, as mentioned previously, but now I find that the images can only be stored as .tft files if they contain measurement data. This type of file does not load into any other program! Grrrr I have, however, managed to find a 'workaround' that works with relative ease and actually produces a better finished result. Yaaay

Another piece of good news is that I've managed to produce my first permanant slide using the Naphrax mountant without setting fire to the house, causing explosions, killing my dog, or any other nastiness. Hopefully this will be the case for all future permanant slide preparations. The Naphrax mountant has a higher refractive index (RI) than glass, water, and diatoms, so the finer details of the diatom shells are now coming into view. These fine structures are important for identification purposes and it shouldn't be too long before I can start placing my specimens into their genera.

Here's an example of some diatoms taken from a wet orange-stained moss on a wall at Woodlands View. Enjoy.


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Posted by on in Microscapes

This post comes a little earlier than expected due to major technical problems with Wal's computer. The diagnosis is "Klingon Nuclear Accelerated Cyclonic Kinetically Excited Radiation Emitting Disorder" (KNACKERED). The computer is also broken! Treatment and repairs are underway and we hope for a speedy return to blogging. :-)

The idea of a 'dress rehearsal' for the diatom study proved to be a good one. It highlighted a number of items that were useful: different equipment to produce better/easier ways of doing things; an indication of the time and effort required (which is considerable); which procedures work best in the laboratory, and so on. All these things have now been dealt with, and one or two minor problems solved, so we can now begin the study in earnest. That said, we can at least confirm that there are diatoms in Midgelden Brook as we would expect, but it's nice to know we can find them even if we can't yet name them. (Click image to enlarge)

Dry samples are better than wet ones; bleached, washed, dry samples are even better. The prepared slides (like those above) gets rid of all the organic 'gunge' that clouds the image and often hides the diatoms. What remains are the mineral fragments, which are quite pretty I think, and the diatom shells that we are searching for. In future I hope to make permanent slides of our best finds, but this involves using Naphrax as a mountant and is something that is best left until I am more proficient at everything else. The solvent used in Naphrax is Toluene, which is dodgy stuff, so I want to be confident I can use it safely.

On a more positive note, my stage micrometer should arrive tomorrow and over the next day or so I'll be able to calibrate my microscopes at all magnifications so that I can take very accurate measurements of specimens and include them in the images with the correct units attached. At the moment I'm only able to measure in pixels (px) so I'm really looking forward to my new toy. With my newly aquired knowledge of callibration, layers, measuring and text tools, you'll hopefully be seeing images like this:


I've started work on my 'Recording Sheets' so that I can keep track of dates, pH levels, number of specimens, etc., so that in years to come we can track any changes that occur and make comparisons between the invertebrate study and the diatom study. I'm only able to record pH in steps (pH 6, pH 7, pH 8, etc) but at least I'll be able to note any major events in that department.

As to the number of specimens in each sample, I've devised a 5-point system which again should provide useful if not precise data to work with, bearing in mind that this study is a learning exercise and needs to be enjoyable rather than scientific. ;-)

1. NONE: Micro-life may be present but was not observed.
2. RARE: Very few specimens throughout the whole sample.
3. SCARCE: Small number of specimens scattered throughout the sample.
4. COMMON: Several specimens in many areas of the sample.
5. ABUNDANT: Numerous specimens in most/all areas of the sample.


Tagged in: Diatom Microscope
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Posted by on in Microscapes

Hello Everybody. You may have noticed that this 'blog within a blog' is called Microscapes, rather than Microscopes. This is not a spelling mistake. Nettie and Wal have kindly made reference to my personal blog where I use my microscopes in a rather unusual and, perhaps, unique fashion. It's an 'arty' and hopefully entertaining blog that is well worth a look at (he said modestly) JK's Magical Microscapes.

As mentioned in the previous post below, my blog posts here will chronicle the search for microlife in Midgelden Brook with an emphasis on trying to discover populations of diatoms at the sampling sites shown on the Invertebrate Monitoring page. Diatoms are new to all of us so we're not making any promises as to how the study will go, but preliminary studies are underway and I'll talk about them next time. In the meantime I'd like to share some images of microlife in the Froggy Pond at Woodlands View which I hope you'll enjoy and there are definately diatoms in there.

Following the recent dry spell the pond was just about dried up and I took the opportunity to gather a half-teaspoon of soggy sediment from around the central island of rocks. It filled about 2ml of a 10ml test tube. When I got back to my 'laboratory' I topped up the tube with distilled water and gave it a gentle shaking for about 30 seconds. Then I let the mixture settle for a further 30 seconds before taking out a sample of the water for viewing. Using a pipette, I took my sample from about halfway down the test tube and placed a single drop of the sample onto a microscope slide. Placing it under the microscope at x400 magnification I had a look around. I'd hoped that I might get lucky and catch some small creature by chance, or maybe two or three, but I was truly amazed at what I saw. (Click image for enlarged view).

To give you an idea of scale for these images they are a little less than 1mm across, so you can see for yourself that the lifeforms are indeed incredibly small. At this scale we measure the objects in microns (1 micron = 1/1000th mm) giving a rough average size of about 50 microns per object.

Here are some cropped images of the diatoms seen so far:

To bring this post to a close, here are are couple of 'javelin' diatoms having a nosey around.
Bye for now, JK.


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We are teaming up with our good friend John G Keegan (JK) in an attempt to expand our water quality survey by looking for diatoms in Midgleden Brook. We've no idea whether this will work out because we've never tried to collect these micron-sized critters before and JK has never tried to study them using his compound microscope. We'll let you know how we get on.

In the meantime, we thought you might enjoy looking at a couple of things that JK sent us recently which he captured with his light microscope. He was using a magnification of x40 on a piece of 'crud' (for want of a better word) from the bottom of a stone water trough. We've set him up with his own page as hopefully he will be able to make regular contributions to the site.

The sample was about 4cm x 2cm and as you can see it doesn't look very interesting at all. Under the microscope however, it transforms into a weird and wonderful jungle landscape.


But jungles can be dangerous, or even deadly to the unsuspecting traveller, as this poor micro-insect found out.


During his microscopic tour of this mini-world, JK happened upon a real-life adventure that he managed to capture on video. A micro-bug (invisible to the naked eye) trapped by an 'algal filament' and in danger of becoming another victim of the jungle. Fortunately, as you will see, it did manage to break free. But it was not alone - Would this be a friend or a foe?

None of us have any idea what species of bug we are looking at here, so if any of you out there recognise it we'd be interested to know. JK has a theory that there may be some home-building going on here with a circular area being prepared for the family. Alternatively, it might just be a method of foraging for food. Even micro-bugs have to eat on occasion and JK assures us that there are no McDonalds or KFC's in the area.

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