13 May 2014

Gold Earthcache Master

April 2012 saw us achieve our silver mastery of Earthcaching goodness. At the beginning of this year we decided that we wanted to reach gold level and if possible reach the highest master level, platinum.

We like doing things like this as they're little challenges to ourselves. They may not mean much to most people, but to us they're a way of adding a little excitement into our lives and doing things as a team. As neither of us know much about geology, it's also a nice way of learning a bit more about the wonderful Earth we call home!

In order to reach the gold level we needed to visit and log twelve or more Earthcaches in four or more states/countries and have developed two or more Earthcaches.

Piggle Dene
Developed Caches
The two Earthcaches we've developed are both in our home county of Wiltshire:
1) Westbury Zig Zag (GC3J11Y) was the our first Earthcache creation and it's based at a massive chalk quarry. Earthcache must have an educational element to them. It's one of the things that make these cache types so special; as you're not just visiting a wonderful place, but also learning about how it was created or why it's special. In this Earthcache we provided information from an old interpretation board (sadly now gone) about the accumulation of chalk. Using this information we ask cachers to provide an estimate of how long it would have taken for this chalk deposit to have built up.
2) Piggle Dene Earthcache (GC4XCBD) is our second creation. It's part of a wonderful National Nature Reserve and home to a 'train' of sarsen stones that were deposited during the freezing and thawing of glaciers. With this Earthcache we ask a fun question: Why are the sarsen stones nicknamed grey wethers? Along with asking for the size of one of the stones and asking cachers what the stone feels like and asking for their suggestion of why the stone feels the way it does. We've had some wonderful suggestions, both serious and fun - including one cacher who said that the stone feels wet and suggested that this was because it had been raining!

Beautiful cottages at Lockeridge Dene, GCQV4Y

Found caches
Since we gained the Silver Earthcache Award we've found the following Earthcaches, in chronological order:
1) GC1JR9Y North East Lincolnshire, England. This cache is about the formation of sand dunes and the habitats of Sand Dunes, Mud Flats, Salt Marsh.
2) GCQV4Y Wiltshire, England. This cache is part of the same National Nature Reserve as our Piggledene Earthcache and gave us the inspiration to make our Earthcache as part of the Fyfield Down series of Earthcaches.
3) GC16PVH Wiltshire, England. This cool cache is about the limestone rock that makes the iconic Bath Stone.
4) GC4RM5T Wiltshire, England. This cache is based at a rock circus. A stone circle that was made from rocks, fossils and minerals for the sole purpose of educating anyone that comes across it.

Along with the Master Awards there is also an award for finds only, called the EarthCache Discovery Awards. The first award is for 50 finds and ranges up to 1000+ finds! It'll be a long while before we've amassed enough Earthcaches to start this series! Until then, we're happy with our Gold Level and hope to get to Platinum in the next year or so. I'd encourage anyone and everyone to give it a go - it's fun and it's free!


07 May 2014

Tree Following: Star

Recently my health became a little worse than normal and it has been a struggle to find the motivation to blog. I'm very grateful the Lucy from Loose and Leafy has left me little reminders to join the Tree Following project.

As I'm quite a few month behind, I'll start with the smallest of the two trees I'm following and bring us up to speed with what's been happening with it. Then in future Tree Following posts, I'll upload photos of a second tree I've been photographing this year.

As I can't get out much, I've decided to follow a couple of trees in my garden. When we moved here around 4 and a half years ago the garden was a blank slate of grass on clay. To be honest, it hasn't changed much, but we have been gradually adding trees, shrubs, bulbs, and annuals.The tree that I'll blog about today is a Magnolia stellata, commonly known as the star magnolia. This post will primarily be lots of photos as the star magnolia flowers early in the year before it throws out its leaves. This means that the bulk of 'interest' happens early in the year, with the majority of the rest of the year being collecting sunlight and making energy to grow and develop the flower buds before the following winter.

So, without further ado, I bring to you: Star...

During the winter, there are no leaves on the tree, which gives it a rather skeletal appearance - but this is ok because the blooms more than make up for it. As you can see, to protect against the cold of winter, the star magnolia protects the flower buds with a furry coat.

As the time for flowering approaches, the bract casings protecting the flower bud gradually fall off; revealing a delicious-looking flower bud with a pinkish stripe that fades as the flower opens.

Eventually the flower opens, revealing many spreading white tepals - which give the star magnolia its name. Each tepal is quite narrow, but up to 2" to 3" in length.

The photo above provides a closer look at the reproductive parts of the flower. There are many cream stamens surrounding many carpels. You may notice that the stamens are quite flat and there is no distinct anther and filament sections - this is a link that shows Magnolias to be an ancient genus. These stamens are known as relictual features and as such have not undergone a great deal of evolutionary change.

A final couple of photos, one showing the full tree with flowers in various stages from recently opened to a stage where the petals have fallen off. The final photograph shows the depth of the whole flower - I quite like this shot.

Well thanks for reading my first Tree Following post. For more information on Tree Following please visit the Loose and Leafy blog.

James D. Mauseth, 2012. Botany: An Introduction to Plant Biology. 5 Edition. Jones & Bartlett Learning.

01 May 2014

Desktop Calendar - May 2014

1) To ensure that you get the best quality, click the photo so that lightbox opens the image.
2) Right-click the image so that the context menu appears:
Firefox: Select "Set as Desktop Background..." and choose from the position options as below (Center or Fit will generally provide the best look).

Options from Firefox
Internet Explorer: Select "Set as Background". To change position settings you will need to set the personalise settings for the desktop in Control Panel:
Control Panel settings
Mac OS10.6.8
Chrome: Command click on photo (above); it opens in a new Tab. Drag to desktop. Use "Desktop & Screensaver" in System Preferences to center and choose background color.

To Hollis, over at In the Company of Plants and Rocks, for the Mac instructions.
To Jessica Burke from Moss Plants and More for such the idea.

Note: If anyone uses other Operating Systems and could let me know the instructions for applying the photo as a desktop image, please get in touch!