Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Gardening with Kites

Two Red Kites. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Earlier this week I went up to a friend's smallholding near Aberystwyth to help her with her garden (she's recently had major surgery).

As I tidied up the front of a grassed-up stone wall, I found two frogs (one small and yellowy and the other full grown and much darker). There were two big Canada Geese in the field behind me, and I heard the first cuckoo of the year. Two Orange Tip butterflies fluttered about in the company of a Small White. Above me I heard what I thought was a Buzzard, and looking up, I saw a pair of Red Kites. Kites are the success story of the century, coming back from the brink of extinction in this country with just a few breeding pairs to a very healthy 672 - 840 estimated pairs in 2007. This wonderful site will show you some amazing photographs and videos. Enjoy.

Anyway, as I worked, I looked up again and counted TEN pairs of Red Kites swirling in the sky above my head. I always feel very privileged just to see ONE kite, but ten pairs were amazing. I always count myself to be so fortunate to live in countryside so rich in wildlife.

Back at home, my new (Niger) seed feeder has attracted firstly Goldfinches and now the Siskins which Rowan said she has visiting her seed feeder. I have never seen them in my garden before so I am thrilled. If I get the Redpolls she has visiting her garden too, I shall be over the moon as I've never seen them before either - not anywhere.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Oak before ash . . .

There's an old saying, "oak before ash, naught but a splash; ash before oak, you're in for a soak." So let's hope that the trees are forecasting a wonderful summer this year (we are more than due one).

One of the oak trees leafing up. This one is particularly green, but many of the ones around our house have the pinky, bronzy young leaves which green-up later.

A very bald-looking Ash tree down by the river. They are WAY behind the oaks.

The pretty lime green leaves of the Beech tree, which can be used to make a liqueur.

Red campion, this is a lovely deep colour. Sometimes they are very insipid and pale. In our part of Wales, we tend not to have the White - or Bladder - Campion, which I remember from my Hampshire childhood. It used to grow along the edge of our garden, along with Yarrow and Tadflax.

A bankful of Violets.

You've seen these before I am sure (probably my photo of exactly the same patch growing on the wall by the bridge). Ivy-leaved Toadflax anyway.

It was about to rain and so the windflowers (Wood anemones) had shut up their blooms.

This is one of the Euphorbias - Sun spurge - which grows on the bank down by the river. All the Euphorbias have a milky sap which can be an irritant on skin. It was known as 'wart spurge', so one may assume it was applied as a cure for warts. I rather like its other psudonym - 'madwoman's milk'!

This is Spignel, also known as Bald Money for some unaccountable reason!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Only an old book . . .

One on nature of course - The Spirit of the Wild by H W Shepheard-Walwyn. It was published in 1924, just the one printing I think, so this is a First Edition by default. Apart from the content, and old black and white photos, I bought it for the dedication: "To my darling, on her 17th birthday." My initial instinct was a gift from a father to his daughter. That daughter would have been born in 1908, over a hundred years ago now. It was a much-loved book. The top of the spine soft and slightly outward-bent from years of an index finger drawing it down from the bookshelf. The bottom of the spine slightly grubby from years of being held by a hand as it was read - perhaps its owner was a keen gardener! It is written in the wonderful descriptive way which is so out of fashion in modern times. Nothing like as eloquent as "BB" (Denys Watkins-Pitchford), and there is an element of the somewhat strangulated Victorian voice in it, but some passages evoke a different time, as when he writes of "the monotonous burr-r-r-r of a nightjar - appropriate name indeed! - suddenly burst jarringly upon the stillness, while small brown objects scurried from my path into the undergrowth. Rose at length, like some gaunt spectre in the waaxing moonlight, with naked fingers pointing heavenward, the pathetic husk of a once mighty monarch of the forest, struck by lightening a few years since, and still overlooked by the woodman's axe . . ."

"To my darling, on her 17th birthday" - just the sort of thing I have written on flyleafs myself . . .

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Nesting time

My thanks to 'Planetcam' who shared this lovely photo on Creative Commons.

I thought I would write about this separately, as it has very little to do with tadpoles and garden ponds! Two days ago when I walked into our upstairs bathroom, I noticed a female blackbird on the windowsill outside, her beak full of nesting material. After a minute or so, when we looked at one another with fascination, she flew into the thicket of Clematis which has now reached the roof. I have seen her several times since - each time we regard each other warily - me frightened to move in case I scare her off, her doubtless wondering what that strange tree is the other side of the glass . . .

Anyway, whilst I was out in the yard this afternoon, pottering about and planting Cherokee Trail of Tears beans for my garden, my eye was caught by a House Sparrow, emerging from the Clematis - that very area of the Clematis in fact, where Mrs Blackbird is heroically constructing her nest (she seems to be a single mother . . .) - with a beakful of Mrs Blackbird's nesting material. The Sparrow then disappeared behind the bargeboard higher up. What a little Beast of Berlin as my friend's late mum would have said! I know that House Sparrows will take over the House Martin's nests as they do this at my friend Jude's house and make her hopping mad, as she loves her House Martins. No wonder they are such survivors, although numbers are apparently very low in comparison with 10 or 20 years ago and House Sparrows are no longer regarded as a "common" bird. Perhaps they have been murdered by annoyed lovers of House Martins . . .

Then as I have been sat typing this, I heard an absolute clamour of startled Blackbirds in the garden and had to shoot downstairs to gather up the Honey Monster (our gorgeous golden Maine Coone), who had obviously got too close to another Blackbird family's nest. Both birds were taking their lives in their hands by landing within a few feet of Honey to try and distract her. She has gone out again now and I can hear irate Blackbird chattering in the bushes nearby. I think these must be young birds as they are nesting rather low in the thicket of Paul's Himalayan Musk rose at the back of the garden.

I will try and get photos over the next few days.

Revenge of the Tadpoles . . .

Sounds like a rather dire "B" movie title doesn't it? I look in my nature pond every day, to see what's arrived (the water skaters arrived about 3 weeks back now but no dizzy whirligig beetles yet) and check out the tadpoles. There seem to be far fewer of them now, but I am guessing that lots have headed out into the deep water, where there is a lot of floating pondweed to hide amongst. Anyway, about 10 days ago there was very dead common newt in the shallows, and I suspect that one of the deadly Dragonfly larva had captured it and sucked it dry of blood, as they do - it was very flat and very white anyways. The tadpoles then began to tuck in and have been nibbling at its little pale corpse every day. Anyway, they had a new victim today. I don't know what did for it, but there was a dead dragonfly larva, and the worm had turned and they were feeding on that! Normally the tadpoles are fair game for the dragonfly larva, which literally suck the lifeblood out of them until they are pale grey in colour . . .

Distant picture of the pond at the top - it's starting to look quite pretty in all its spring finery now and yes, I have rescued the empty pond planter from the deep end, from whence the wind blew it recently.

Monday, 20 April 2009

A walk up the hill

You will have to forgive the lack of posts, but with our daughters here over Easter, my time was taken up - 4 long-distance journeys took up four days of the time they were home.

Anyway, back on an even keel again now, and here are some photos from a walk up our hill last week, when more wild flowers were starting to bloom.

Garlic Mustard, or Jack-by-the-hedge. The leaves may be eaten, raw in salad or boiled.

Ground Ivy - a better picture than the one from the Preselis recently. A Greater Stitchwort also getting in on the act.

Shining Cranesbill flower.

Herb Robert flower.

You could miss it easily - a little Fairy Forest of lichen on an old log.

Young Sycamore leaves with their pinky-bronzey tint. They are much larger than the similar-looking . . . .

Field Maple. This big old tree grows in the hedgerow in our top field.

Here is the trunk, for identification. With that flaky bark that looks a little like a Plane tree. The hybrid London Plane tree which is what we see (deliberately) planted in our cities is a deliberate cross, and the Plane tree is not indiginous to Britain as it is to Europe and America and Mexico.

I have recently bought a proper niger-seed feeder to try and attract the Goldfinches to the garden. Now, when I put the seed in a cheap-and-nasty feeder (which kept falling apart!) they didn't come near, but the Blue and Great Tits enjoyed it. Within hours of putting the proper feeder out, I had four Goldfinches appear from nowhere. Here are two of them, to prove it!

So I have been enjoying their colourful plumage and their antics. There is a definite pecking order - these two are a pair, but if one from the other pair tries to muscle in on the seed, there is a bit of bother! You can just see the third of the four, beak-on, to the right and below the feeder - or better still, double click and you will seem them all clearly.

I still put crumbs out for the birds on the window sill too, and thought I was seeing things recently when a little Blue Tit arrived, but his face was completely YELLOW. Anyway, I looked in one of my bird books, and found that immature birds do indeed have yellow faces. A couple of them looked a bit fluffy still - obviously moulting off fluff - so I wonder if the Blue Tits had a very early brood and these are they?

In the paddock, I noticed a Tree Creeper recently. He is often around, but as I was sat in the car, he didn't notice me and flew to the smaller apple tree near the car, so I could get a close look at his curved beak - used for hunting out insects in the cracks in the fissures in the bark - and his white tummy and eyebrows. He is a regular visitor over the years.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Spring has sprung . . .

. . . even in the city. We had to take our middle daughter to her friend's house near Newport, for the onward journey back to University and took the opportunity of a little bit of culture and visited the Museum and Art Gallery in Cardiff. On the way back to the car, I noticed these bluebells flowering - much further forward than ours at home.

One of our local bluebells - we have very few out at all yet in our valley.

My eldest daughter and I had a lovely walk along the valley last week and I took some photos of some of the wild flowers we encountered.

Bitter Vetch growing on a hedge bank.

Cuckoo Pint also known as Lady's Smock.

Flowering Wood Rush.

A happy bankful of Anemones (Windflowers to me).

A trio of ferns unrolling.

These different sorts of fiddleheads of fern can apparently be cooked - bit like asparagus - and have good levels of Vitamin C.

These I can identify - Hart's Tongue ferns.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Over the hills . . .

I had a birthday day out this week, down to various places west of here in Pembrokeshire. There everything was further advanced than our cold valley (we are a bit higher up too).

Wood sorrel (centre) with goosegrass clambering up past it. On a sheltered rocky bank near Pentre Ifan burial chamber. It's also known as Cuckoo's bread and cheese, and Granny's sour grass). It is also known as 'Alleluia' because it appears around Easter tide.

Above is a little piece of Ground Ivy, flowering on a sheltered rocky bank.

These violets were just along the lane. There were the first Stitchwort flowering too, but unfortunately it was blowing a bit up there and I couldn't hold the camera steady enough for a recognizable picture!

A whole hillside of gorse at Moylegrove.

The very first Bluebells on a bank in the pretty village of Moylegrove. Can I suggest you visit this site and click on the Flora and Fauna link, which gives excellent photographs of what can be found in that area.

Alexanders are often one of the first plants to put up fresh shoots at the back end of winter. They grow on banks near the sea and were originally a Mediterranean plant, obviously introduced - probably by the Romans, who used them as a spring vegetable and tonic. They take their name from being 'the parsley of Alexandria'. It was widely grown in Monastic herb gardens, and all of the plant was utilized and the young buds were pickled. It is strong-tasting with a 'pungent, angelica-like savour'. Celery eventually overtook its vegetable use.

Close up of Alexanders.

I saw this which I couldn't identify and had to refer to Marjorey Blamey. It is Common Scurvey Grass.

From its name you will deduce that it was taken on sea voyages because it is very high in Vitamin C content and helped reduce the Scurvey suffered by the sailors. Captain Cook took it on his voyages of discovery. Country folk also used it as a spring tonic.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Recent walk

The briefest of posts as I am meant to lready be on the road up North to collect our eldest daughter from uni. These photos are from a recent walk near Pembrey.

Such an inviting path.

Another mossy old tree, with its feet in the water.

At the side of the path were old blackthorns, covered in mosses and litchens.

Wonderful changes of habitat. I shall come back here bird-watching when I have blown the dust of my binoculars! There should be Cuckoos here, making the most of the Reed Warbler' nests.

The path was so inviting . . . I didn't have time to follow it all the way up the mountain (think, big hill) but I shall another time.

Oh dear - this is a brown b*gger with a Latin name! It's ages since I've been on a proper fungi foray - must get myself geared up again this year.

There was a lot of diseased wood amongst the trees along the side of the trackway. I think this is one of the Polypores - perhaps the Many-zoned.

It was a sheltered spot and so the honeysuckle had got away to a good start.

Blackthorn in flower.