Saturday, 22 August 2009

Please follow the link

Because I have had trouble trying to save my new email addy I have been unable to get into my blogs and had to start a new one. If you come here, I have now amalgamated both this blog and my original one Codlins and Cream into one again, and both can now be found at:

Oh, and if you hear screaming - that's ME!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Our very own fox . . .

My son called me today to say there was a fox in the paddock, and so there was. I had grabbed my camera before we crept up the stairs to the half landing and got these photos. He's looking a bit manky - wonder if he has mange? His brush is not All It Should Be!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Wildlife on holiday

Here are a few photographs taken from our recent holiday. Firstly, the ponies which the New Forest is famous for. They are all "wild-ish" but many are used to people and the ones in Burley itself will stand to be petted and posed with. There was one youngster, probably a 2 yr old, laid flat out asleep in the Burley car park, literally being crawled over by half dozen kids, all having their photo taken. Now if the Health and Safety brigade had noticed that, the ponies would all be shut away somewhere . . .

There are many fewer ponies on the Forest after recent re-organization, the stallions have been culled, only the better ones used, and only turned out for a few months in the summer to cover mares. There are fewer foals - many of which went for the meat trade - and prices should be better. However, there are a LOT more cattle on the Forest now. When I was a kid you would hardly ever see cattle, though of course there were plenty of pigs turned out for pannage each autumn, to clear up the millions of acorns. Acorns are poisonous to ponies, causing Vitamin B deficiency and ultimately death, but the ponies ignore the health risks and many have a real taste for them, as indeed my three horses did here, resulting in the chore of having to go round and pick up ALL the acorns each autumn - and we have half a dozen big oak trees on our land.

Two donkeys "parked" in the car park at Burley. They looked really cheesed off! I love the stripey legs of the darker grey donkey. My lovely Arab Fahly had stripey legs too, on his forearms.

Isn't he beautiful? This little chap, probably about 6 months or so old, came round every evening just before dusk. He got the shock of his life one night when there was Another Fox on the lawn already - a cooty old thing with mange. In this photo, he had just spotted the older fox and a few moments later, turned tail and was next seen crossing the paddocks beyond the garden. He turned up every night we were house-sitting. When we let the dogs out last thing, they would "trail" every step the foxes had taken . . .

The rabbits would come out a little earlier in the evening to browse. They were totally unconcerned by the possibility of predators . . .

The nut-nets were very popular with the birds, and despite being squirrel-proof, the visiting squirrel seems very undeterred. Sometimes the Jays and Yaffles would swoop by too.

Both Greater-Spotted and Lesser-Spotted Woodpeckers visited the nut net. This is the Lesser Spotted and I had never seen one until staying at Ann's house. There were also two families of Green Woodpeckers nesting either side of the garden which set up a tremendous fuss if yuo walked near their nests! The Hampshire (Wessex really) name for Green woodpeckers is "Yaffles" on account of their laughter-like call.

Monday, 10 August 2009

This is the Rampion, photographed on chalky soil in Dorset. It prefers dry grassland - banks, waysides, and often closely-grazed habitats and flowers June to August. I can't find any herbal use for it, so it will have to rely on its pretty colouring and petals which are a little like Ragged Robin, only with a different flowerhead and colouring overall. I also know these as hard heads. There is a much-rarer Round-Headed Rampion which I would love to find one day.

I photographed this poor blackbird in a tree outside our eldest daughter's kitchen window in her new flat. He was totally bald and illustrates how hard parent birds work feeding their young. I think such a heavy moult is brought on following all that hard work.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Common Mallow

Malva sylvestris. This is one of seven different Mallows to be found in Britain and this one is also found in North America where it is called High Mallow. Pliny said of these plants: "whosoever shall take a spoonful of the juice of any of the mallows, shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him." Would that were the case!

Country folk in both France and England have used fresh mallow leaves soaked in hot water as an effective poultice for "strains, sprains and wasp and bee stings". Indeed a bee-keeping builder of ours advised that Mallows (Marsh mallow in particular) were good for bee-stings and to always have some growing in the garden. In the past it was recommended that mallows, boiled and buttered, be used 'for the Breasts or paps of women: for it not only procureth great store of milk . . . but aswageth the hardness of them . . . also all other torments that come by the stoppings of the belly.' I would assume it was the heat from using these as a fomentation which brought relief, in combination with the healing powers of the mallow leaves. Mallow was also recommended for treating pleurisy and other chest complaints, as well as skin irritation. Mallow root was used to whiten teeth. The plant is rich in mucilage, and for this reason was used in ointments and cough medicines, as well as in enemas!

Of course, the Marsh Mallow was used in the manufacture of the sweetmeat of that name - there must have been many millions of plants compared with today, when it is a lot rarer.

You will find the Common Mallow along roadside verges and rough ground.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Where to start? Yarrow I think.

I have SO much to catch up on over this summer without broadband, it will be almost impossible. So posts for the next few weeks will probably be very random. I will begin with the most recent photograph i took, which is the one of Yarrow growing beside the River Dart in Postbridge yesterday afternoon. Sadly we only had a couple of hours on the moor, on our way home between the New Forest and following a family get together.

Yaarrow grows in poorish soil and is often found on dry verges. I remember it well along the edge of the wild half of our garden in Southampton when I was growing up, with Toadflax for company. Of course it has a cultivated version in various hues to grow in the garden. Its country names were Devil's Nettle and Devil's Plaything, following a connection with a witch's incantations and trial in the 17th century. Some folk made it into Snuff, hence it's other name of Old Man's Pepper.

The Latin name of Achillea stems from it being used to treat the Greek warrior Achilles, as it is famus for its wound healing and blood-staunching properties. He in turn used it to heal the wounds of his compatriots. Country names suggesting this are Soldier's Woundwort, Herbe Militaris, Bloodwort, Sanguinary and Staunchweed. It was also used for promotion of sweating as it is a strong febrifuge. Gypsies would stuff the leaves up the noses of any feverish animals to promote a nosebleed and lessening of fever. Presumably one nostril would be left clear for them to breath! It was also used to treat earache, a wad of the soft leaves crushed and warmed being placed against the affected ear.

There were many superstitions abut the Yarrow including the one that yarrow could provide a glimpse of a future sweetheart. This involved sewing some yarrow in a scrap of cloth and putting it under your pillow, when of course you would dream of the man you would marry . . .

Many thanks to Pamela Michael's "A Country Harvest" and Juliette de Bairacli Levy's "The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable."

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Normal service will soon be resumed?

Well, hopefully BT are fixing our line on 8th August, after fixing it temporarily. We will have to see how well it holds up when we next have heavy rain. I am currently on holiday in the New Forest with my husband - we are house-sitting for friends whilst they have a holiday.

We have been enjoying the wildlife here - LOTS of birds visiting the nut nets - including Greater and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers (I've never seen the latter until this week), Green Woodpeckers nesting in two places in the garden here, Jays, a Buzzard nesting nearby, and at night badgers in the paddocks and veg plot, and a leggy young fox who trots across the lawn at dusk every evening. I got a good photo of him one evening, so I will post that when I get home. There is an older - and very mangey - fox too, who our young one is very wary of. With big French windows, the garden feels like is is part of the room. So another "want" has been added to my long list for when we downsize!

I was fortunate to find a lovely book: The Countryside Companion in a charity shop this past week, and for only 50 pence. Here is a little extract from "Cornish Wilds", 1924, by H J Massingham:

"But, unlike the granite, the bramble, furze and blackthorn do not stand up to the elements nor bide the pelting of the wind, but, huddling, twisting, creeping close to the hollow soil, become its very garment. The shuffling badger that lives among the cairns, the little pennywort or navelwort that swings its bells in their safe niches are not in their way more reticent than is the gorse. Even so, the Atlantic gales have nibbled off their tops and mounded them into tiny ranges, through which the ling forces its purple spires, so that the flowers of each plant grow intermingled, in pressed clusters and on the same level. This blending is very beautiful, for the September gorse (Ulex nanus), which is a sub-species or variety of Ulex europoeus that sets the moors in points of smokeless flame in spring, is of the deep but subdued colouring of old gold. In wide patches grow the bents or white moor-grass, all silver and silk, and of a texture so fine that when the wind ripples their surface it is as though its wavelets had suddenly become visible. The same wind grips the waters and crunches the ships to tatters, and pounds and crumbles the granite into the mazy sculpture of the covers ans shatters even the iron-stone."

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

This and that . . .

We appear to be having a steadier run of broadband (2 days of it now) so I will risk trying to post regularly again.

We had a little visitor the other night - well, not so little actually, as he was quite a good size with a hearty appetite:

Honey, just approaching, didn't know quite what to make of him! Now I know why there is always a clean bowl in the morning - and I thought it was a combination of stray cat/jackdaws/foxes . . .

I was delighted to find two Comma butterflies in the garden yesterday, squeaky-clean and probably newly-hatched, and luckily staying around long enough for me to find my camera. Butterflies this summer have been a fairly rare occurrence. There weren't many last summer, which was hardly surprising because of it being so wet and cold, and so I suppose very few butterflies actually got to breed. I have seen no Tortoiseshells at all, only 2 or 3 Peacocks, but regularly see one or two Meadow Browns, Speckled Woods and something which is probably a Grayling.

The scalloped wing edges of the Comma readily identify it. We never see them in large numbers in any summer, but this year even two are a bonus.

Finally, a beautifully-made bird's nest which had been blown out f probably the big oak tree dwn our hill. There was a flat bottom to the nest and a little scoop where it would have tucked against the trunk, but I'm not sure what bird made it. Perhaps a chaffinch? Suggestions?

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Dragonflies and Bumblebees

Here is an excellent link if you wish to identify the bumblebees in your garden:

I've had a LOT this year - sadly, replacing the honey bee, but hopefully that will make a come-back. I have a lot to learn about bumble bees as I only recognize three types . . .

And here's one for Dragonflies:

These two Dragonflies hatched in my garden - one yesterday and one prior to that. Odd they both chose the same spot to emerge. There are a couple more in that pond and at least one in the main pond, but not ready yet. I think mine is a Golden Ringed Dragonfly. I think . . .

Saturday, 20 June 2009

I'm back - but where to start? Pond Life in May

I did take some nature notes whilst I was "away", so I will write them up as they occurred. Today is jottings about the wildlife pond from the last week of May.

Broad-bodied chasers - male

And below, the female

Blue damselfly below

Another baking hot day. Too hot for me, especially as I wasn't up particularly early and so lost the hours when I often garden pre-breakfast. One of the earliest tadpoles in the wildlife pond has back legs, front legs, a distinctly froggy shape and will soon lose his tail. Several others have sprouted back legs. I couldn't help but think how strange that must feel, to be a little barrel blob with a tail and to suddenly grow extra bits. I wonder how much they have to compensate with their tail when they are swimming once they have legs? Or how about swimming along with a glorious tail one day, and then it begins to wither and drops off! In our main pond, I saw a grown-up bronzey-coloured frog, one of several who I believe live around the "island" that was once a tub of marginal plants that have now colonized through their container and taken over that corner of the pond. Both ponds were heaving with damselflies - red, blue and a ruddy-brown. I was amazed when I looked closely to see that the red ones have shining ruby-red eyes, and when I got a blue to stay still long enough, they have electric blue eyes to match their body, with a black stripe above them a bit like a mask. The browny ones have browny eyes. One sex has the bright colouring (male one presumes), whilst the other sex is darker and their quieter clours mirror the display of the other, with only thin bands of bright colour. When they mate, I presume it is the male! - places the tip of its body behind the female's head, and I believe the sperm sac is passed to the female in this manner. They often stay joined like this when they fly around and then the female can be seen dipping her ovipositor into the pond to lay eggs against the vegetation. The male is - of necessity - in a polt upright position when this happens and to be honest, looks a proper prat! Sometimes you see them totally joined up (this is called the "copulation wheel") and I saw one couple like this today resting on vegetation, although they can apparently fly like this. They all (Dragonflies and Damselflies) belong to the family of Odonata, but their Latin names don't exactly trip off the tongue - the Blue Damselfly is Enallagma cyathigerum and the Large Red Damselfly is Pyrrohosoma nymphula. We'll stick to red or blue damselflies then . . .

Whilst honey bees are not common in my garden this year, their place has more than been taken by the little buff tailed bumble bee, Bombus lucorum, but there is also a much larger buff tailed bumble bee - I wonder if this could be the cuckoo bee, Psithyrus barbutellus. She lays her eggs in the nest of the bumblebee Bombus hortorum.

Here is an excellent link to a bumble bee site, and if my brain wasn't quite so scrambled, I would put more notes from it on here, but you will have to look for yourself as I slept very badly last night!

Now I have the internet back, I will check out the ramblings above and correct/improve upon them. My little books on the subject don't have much detail and only the very commonest species.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Hoping to be back today

I know this as 'Fox and Cubs' and saw it growing first alongside the - then abandoned - Swanage to Corfe railway line . . .

Many, many apologies but I have had dreadful phone line problems - changing provider and a phone line that has Had It . . . I have been taking notes over the 3 weeks I had no broadband, so I will post them up later on today, or whenever broadband comes back properly (this is just a "blip").

Monday, 25 May 2009

Wild Aquilegias . . . and the Council's verge-scalping habit

I thought I'd carry on the trend, having done cultivated Aquilegias over on Codlins and Cream this weekend. These photos were taken early Saturday morning, when the soft but relentless rain from the previous night had spoiled some of the petals of the pale flowers. Along some of the local lanes, these are a common flower. On others they are nowhere to be seen.

We have some of the palest pink ones up by our field gate (on our hedgerow). We have had as many as 14 plants, but are down to about 4 again, partly because Next Door WILL insist n driving farm vehicles which are to wide down our narrow lane and gouging chunks out of the banks (always the chunks with Aquilegia growing on them). Secondly, if the gritting guys come along in the winter, and with hundreds of yards of bank to chose from, they ALWAYS chuck the grit and salt on - you've guessed it - some of my Aquilegias. Finally, the Council contractors WILL insist on cutting the banks before they can set seed (they probably do it early to eradicate that peril of narrow country lanes, Cow Parsley - I mean, if your vision is impeded, you might have to slow down - heaven forbid!) I see that this year they have been cutting the verges along the A40 with their profusion of white, pink and red Valerian and millions of Ox-Eye Daisies in mid-May. Last year they were an absolute picture - this year - scalped. "They" get earlier and earlier too . . . "They" don't seem to realize that the beauty of the Welsh countryside and wild flowers are part of the attraction to holiday-makers and some inhabitants, but "they" just want everywhere looking like a tidy back lawn - a pox on them. It must cost an arm and a blardy leg too - the number of vehicles with flashing signs involved to say grass cutting is in progress, all for one little man with a strimmer!

Isn't this such a pretty Midnight Purple? Or should that be Aubergine?

They come in such pretty colours - I love the Crushed Raspberry . . .

and the Faded Crushed Raspberry . . .

And the Deep Lilacy-Purple.

These look almost black from a distance.

And of course white. "My" wild Aquilegias, on the top bank of our field, are the palest of pale pinks. I've taken photos tonight so will share them tomorrow.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Habitat: walls . . .

A brief posting as I am off to view a Nursery in Swansea later on (particularly for her Collection of Aquilegias). So just a make-weight post today.

I took these photos at Grosmont Castle recently, on my way home from Herefordshire. It was covered in wild wallflowers, which had colonized every nook and cranny and made it look SO pretty.

Some plants will grow anywhere. Above and below, wallflowers have colonized cracks in the walls at Grosmont Castle, on the Welsh borders beyond Abergavenny. There were some small seedlings growing in cracks in the wall base, so I pocketed 4 and they are growing on nicely.

Below - Navelwort just coming into flower. Also at Grosmont Castle.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Newt-watching and the Phantom Sheepdog Trials bird again

Poor photo of the big baddy dragonfly larva at the bottom of the wildlife pond.

I am hoping that this video I recorded last night of that strange whistling bird will load and be properly functional. Bill Oddie, if you are reading this, please tell me what it is, as the lack of identification is driving me nuts! I was speaking to a neighbour last night, whose garden backs on to woodland, and she said they hear it a lot too, so it is obviously a fairly common bird. Drat - it won't load as I have to try and change the format somehow . . .

I have listened to all the possible birds on the two Sunday Telegraph CDs of birdsong I have. I have listened to even more candidates via the excellent RSPB bird song identification site (still no joy), and I really have NO idea what it could be. The upside of this is I want a video camera when we downsize!

Most evenings at dusk, when there is less glare on the water of my little wildlife pond, I watch the wildlife in it. Dusk is when the newts (Palmate I think - the common-as-muck sort anyway) come out to play. I have seen as many as 5 together, including a Big Boss newt who is obviously the male of the species as he has a pair of rather obvious - and bright yellow! - b*lls! I have found baby newts all over the place - one - a tasteful baby-poo brown with a yellow stripe down its back - was between the earth and the wall when I was gardening the other day. Sometimes in autumn they will march under our front door (there's a draughty gap!) and along the hallway and we will find dessicated little corpses in shoes or overlooked corners. The tadpoles are VERY wary and seem to live on their nerves. If you throw a shadow across the pond there is a scurry of little bodies hurtling for cover. The newts sometimes tease them by suddenly appearing in their midst and looking threatening, but their real enemies are the Dragonfly larva, which casually snooze amongst the tadpoles (who seem to live in total ignorant bliss) and then - when they feel peckish - will suddenly leap into action and the nearest tadpole will be the next meal, to be sucked grey and discarded. Nor are the newts safe from the dragonfly larva - we once found a very pregnant - and nearly dead - female with a dragonfly larva clamped to her side, where the blood had been sucked into a huge "bruise".

I am so glad that I decided to start this blog because in doing so it has given me more reason to stop, look, listen and really OBSERVE wildlife.

Above: Pied Wagtails on our bridge. A few weeks ago I was watching the courtship display of a pair in the forecourt of the garage at Whitemill. He thought he was a very splendid jack-the-lad, and was wooing his lady by running very fast in front of her. Then he would check to see if she was interested (she looked bored rigid to be honest!) and then he would run past her again, little legs twinkling. Eventually she deigned to notice him and moved a little nearer, but boy, he had to run his legs off to get her attention!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Jew' Ear fungus

A common Fungus, often found growing on Elder, and edible. It feels rather strange to touch and really is incredibly ear-like! Grows throughout the year (photo taken this morning).

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Owl Pellets

Sorry for the poor photo quality, but these are just some of the Red Kites I saw on my way home from Tracy's recently. There must have been a good 50 birds, but I couldn't get them all in the same photo. Double-click to enlarge.

I was away near Ross-on-Wye over the weekend, and was taken to the Forest of Dean to walk around a sculpture trail. Of course, I was taking photos of wildlife too, though I did restrain myself from taking a photo of half a dozen dung beetles at work, mainly because they were at work on a pile of dog poo and it didn't make a very pretty picture . . .

Anyway, as we walked round I happened to notice an owl pellet lying broken on the ground. Either dropped from a great height or someone had stepped on it, and it was full of the wing cases of beetles (mostly black dung beetles I suspect). My friend Judy's bird book mentioned that Little Owls would kill a mole, but instead of eating it would leave it to attract the beetles which it loves to eat. So this pellet suggests to me it may have come from a Little Owl, even though open countryside rather than woodland is its natural habitat. This was the very edge of the woodland though, and it was very open here.

A Little Owl's favourite snack, one of the dung beetles in the forest.

Owl pellet consisting mostly of beetle wing covers.

Here at home in our part of Carmarthenshire, we have mostly Tawny Owls. They will sit in the trees behind and to the side of the house in late summer/early autumn, and hoot to one another for hours. Someone suggested they were teaching the youngsters to hunt, but this goes on for several months, so they would be having LOTS of broods.

Bluebells in a forest clearing.

One of the Mountain Ash (or Rowan) trees in full bloom.

Talking of moles, here's a very dead one that Honey caught earlier. Poor little chap.

I'm back

If you wondered what had happened to me we had no broadband for nearly a week, then it was fixed over the weekend I was away at Badminton Horse Trials, came back Monday to find a tree had fallen on the phone line, so neither phone nor broadband, and then phone fixed, but no broadband again. Imagine a rather bald middle-aged blogger beside a pile of hair and ground-down teeth, and you have me! LOTS to post about but have to proof read my daughter's dissertation first . . . "Think" that the bird may be a Wood Lark as we actually heard AND saw one at Llantony Priory last week. Spotted chest, thrush size, very slim insect-eater's beak, and this time was in a Rowan tree beside the car park, and nothing like as well hidden . . .

Friday, 1 May 2009

The Phantom Sheepdog-Trials Bird and the evening chorus

The weather cleared to provide us with a lovely evening yesterday, so I went for a walk up the valley. Perhaps townsfolk never notice, but there is a distinct evening chorus and last night's was lovely. Our eldest daughter always prefers to walk in the evenings, and now I see why. Anyway, I came across the most peculiar bird. I called it the Phantom Sheepdog Trials bird as I couldn't see it or identify it. Its call was 4 very strong whistles (wheat-wheat-wheat-wheat), then two long Football Referee type whistles (wheeeeeeee-wheeeeeeeee), and then a little short scold. A lady PST bird answered, not as piercingly, but softer and throatier. They were hidden in the middle of a stand of larches, and I haven't the foggiest what they might look like. I thought at first that it was mimicking the whistles, but it was a repeated refrain and the hen bird answered in a similar fashion. I've looked and looked through my bird books but nothing like it. Anyone? What I want to know is, where's Bill Oddie when you need him?

Thoroughbred mare and fal on a neighbour's farm.

View cross the sun-drenched valley.

More ferns unfurling.

A few bluebells in the woodland beside the lane.

Our river looked so beautiful in the evening sunshine. Really tranquil.

Wild Ramsons just starting to flower.

Sorry - this is meant to be longer but my internet connection is VERY iffy. Photos aren't loading now.

P.S. I "think" that the bird might be a Nuthatch, though the recording I've heard of a Nuthatch isn't like what I heard, so - dunno . . .