The Legend of John Barleycorn

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 2 November 2019 12:09

Last weekend I headed up to Ken Hill for the last visit of 2019, this time to complete the woodland part of the NVC map with plenty of casual recording too. The birds were really good, with the highlight being a trilling Waxwing over the Plain and this really confiding Black Redstart on the barn, guarding the harvest (could this be John Barleycorn? You'll have to read right to the end to know what I'm going on about here). I don't often take many bird photos (this is just shoving my camera against my 30 year old scope). It's great when you get that close to a bird you see new features. Never noticed the pale base to the lower mandible before.

There were also loads of winter thrushes, Bramblings, Golden Plovers, Woodcock and Pink-footed Geese about. But the highlight of the trip was meeting up with my childhood mentor who I had not seen for 15 years! Was really good to see Ewart Gardner again, last time we saw each other we went for the 'Slender-billed Curlew' in Suffolk in 2004. We will definitely not be leaving it for another 15 years, it was so good showing Ewart my bird diaries from 30 years ago which he had never seen before. We spent the day birding around Norfolk at Titchwell and Cley. I picked up four Velvet Scoters at Titchwell and we heard a Bearded Tit at Cley but I think bird of the day was the Black Redstart! It was really important to me to say thank you, for without him I really don't believe I would be doing what I am doing now.

Fungi were really good, with plenty of nice common charismatic species about, such as this Fly Agaric.

A fantastically disgusting Stinkhorn.

Some of the brightest Scarlet Waxcaps I've ever seen! Growing only on one area of the Plain that had been scraped. In time, when this area is well grazed, these sort of fungi should increase in range. They can't compete with the ungrazed tussocks of Wavy Hair-grass though.

Similarly, on a different scrape, what I think must be Moor Coral, not a species I have seen before and one with a connection to Heather. Anyone else remember the Hattifatteners from the Moomins?

On Bracken, what I think is likely to be Apricot Club. I must renew my membership.

Amethyst Deceiver.

On a veteran Beech to the south, a Shaggy Scalycap.

Under the pines on the cones, some Toothpick Fungi.

Very few inverts around but new for the site was a lovely little Winter Semi-slug. I recorded a little video of it too, showing the mantle coming out and moving around on top of the shell. Such a strange little creature.

I had a quick look in the sand dunes before I cam home and picked up two lifers! The coastal tenebrionid Phaleria cadaverina and the very cool money spider Walckenaeria monoceros (both nationally scarce species). Here is a shot of the money spider under the microscope, it has a quiff!!! Spiders with haircuts, whatever next? 

Over the next five months I will be writing all this up. It's been a fantastic place to work and relax, so much space, wildlife and calm up there. The whole experience has been fantastic and I can't thank the Padwicks enough for their hospitality, I will really miss them! And to the Buscalls for making it all happen and to everyone else who has helped. And Tika and Charlie!

Driving back, I was lucky enough to listen to this great piece on Radio 4 about Folk Horror. I can't get enough of this stuff and it inspired the title of this post. It really got me thinking about the whole Legend of John Barleycorn and how in English Folklore, John Barleycorn represented the harvesting of the barley, the cyclical nature of agriculture mirroring life, death and rebirth. And that at Ken Hill, this has never been more poignant; this being the last crop before giving birth back to a more natural system. A much longer cycle if you will then, than the annual cropping regime but a cycle none the less. As the song goes, "John Barleycorn must die" but he'll be back next year in the form of a plethora of wild plants, insects, birds, mammals and more. In fact, he hasn't even left...

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