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 . . .