Hello and Welcome to the enormous and unwieldy monster that is my website....
Special Dedication Originally set up way back in 2005, This site continues to be dedicated to my wife, my son and to my daughter. They are my strength, my pride and my joy. I also want to remember the following individuals.... Tony S, Billy R, Jamie R, Tex Mick, Doc and Dave G (They actually were the best of the best) Sadly, I must now add Jacob C. Finally, this is also for my step-sister who I still miss after more than 59 years (I hope he never hurt you) and for Lillian, Malcolm, Harry and Mel who all died so tragically young ....and, of course, it's for Ellie too, who would have turned forty this year (2014) and maybe even have made me a great-granddad by now.
Above and Below....An All-day Family Walk Mid-June, 2014 and the day before my daughter returned to the USA to reunite with her Californian boyfriend and attend his UC College graduation ceremony. Then, basically, it will be the two of them spending the next six weeks visiting, revisiting and exploring several of the more westerly and south-westerly States, including yet more of California's west coast and its State Park plus sizeable portions of Nevada, Arizona and Utah....Not to mention a carefully planned 350 mile drive across the Mohave Desert and a very special hotel-based stay of several days in the breathtakingly spectacular Zion National Park.
She's absolutely hooked on US National and State Parks (I wonder where she gets that from) and they may even try to squeeze in a few days hiking in Yosemite before she finally returns to the UK sometime in August.
Above and Below....Yellowhammer Window-Strike Note the partially dislocated lower beak....Doubtless, excruciatingly painful and, ultimately, a death sentence for this unfortunate little bird.
Rain and Wind and Rain All Day Long That's not fog, mist or low cloud in the background by the way, but sheet after sheet of rain!
First Snowdrops of 2014 ....Soon to be renamed Raindrops!
Above and Below....Christmas Eve 2013
Remembrance Sunday, 10th November, 2013 I nearly always prefer to pay my respects at a different war memorial site each year. Usually an off-the-beaten-track, less well attended one. This time around, I chose the little village of Ablington in the Cotswolds.
Deep in the Forest
"Cor, Watcha Mate....It's Bloomin' Spring Innit!"
When Arthritis Attacks! Ernie is getting old and suffers badly with arthritis. He can barely manage to hobble a few excruciatingly painful steps these days before collapsing to the ground, but he struggles on, determined to make the best of it. "The poor thing should be put out of its misery" people say, but the thing is, Ernie still enjoys life and continues to defy the odds each year by doing his bit to help maintain Swan population levels....He's sired no fewer than seven younguns this time around and is proving, yet again, to be an absolutely devoted father.
Ernie and I share a little bit of history (I rescued him many years ago after he was savaged by someone's pet dog and managed to get him all fixed up....except that he was left with a fairly debilitating limp and it's the damage caused to his leg in the dog incident which has now developed the arthritis.
The picture shows Ernie moments after collapsing in the middle of a fairly busy little road and while his long-time mate, Erica, had the good sense to continue leading her entourage safely across the tarmac, poor old Eric seemed unable to regain his feet. By this time, one or two drivers had edged their vehicles alarmingly close to the prostrate Swan in order to squeeze by and then driven on, so I decided to lend Eric a hand.
Wary of both Erica's and Ernie's possible negative reaction, I instructed Tess to "sit off" and approached Ernie very slowly. Thankfully, I'm well known to both Swans and neither reacted as I bent down to lift Ernie gently up in my arms to get a better look at his leg. This is one advantage of getting to know Swans quite well over a long period of time, visiting them often and doling out the occasional handful of Duck'n'Swan food every now and then. They soon recognise you as a positive in their lives and eventually learn to trust you. Plus, I also believe that Ernie remembers me as the human who helped him all those years ago.
Anyway, Ernie's leg was fairly swollen, partly because of the arthritis, but also because his ID leg ring had become far too tight because of the arthritic swelling and was beginning to cut into the flesh. Fortunately, I always carry a small pair of wire-cutters on me for cutting up snares and the like set by poacher's and gamekeepers and was able to snip the offending metal band away from the leg. I sensed the instant relief that Ernie must have felt as the pressure was released, but also decided to add a spot of antiseptic gel (I also carry a small first aid kit) to the wound before carrying the 'patient' back to his family.
Sadly, I wouldn't be surprised if the coming summer might well be Ernie's last. I think another long winter might prove too much for him, but, then again, Ernie's a tough old bird and he just might be with us for a good while yet.
A Few Inches of Snow Up in the Hills ....but apparently none down in the towns at all.
Cotswold Winterscape Tess and I were very much out on our own all day today (13th February, 2012), traipsing across the higher Cotswolds, apart from the odd lady or two braving the elements to walk their dogs (men mostly seem to prefer dog-walking in the summer ). The sad thing about the Cotswolds however, is that, despite covering an area of around 3,500 square miles, there's not a single square inch of it that hasn't been tamed, adapted, developed and managed to within an inch of its life and all in the name of Holy Productivity. Even the snow isn't allowed to fall here unless it promises to look pretty for the tourists!
Shot Taken from the Same Place as the Picture Below
Last Picture of the Day
Silver river running silent ....Surely ....To the sea Going somewhere ....Slowly ....Oh so slowly ....Just like me
(Poem fragment by Daisy W, my Mum. Date unknown, but probably written when she was fairly young)
What's the Point ....of being a Labrador unless you can get muddy every day?
Above and Below....My 'Arty' Representation of a Cotswold Country-Type Racecourse I only rarely do this sort of thing these days, but I did have an offer recently to produce a set of thirteen similarly rendered 'broad spectrum' (whatever that means) Cotswold scenes for use in a themed calendar. I politely declined due to a lack of time....and inclination.
Above and Below.... Winter Wagtail Better known as insect eaters, Wagtails are often forced to visit garden bird tables to find alternative foodstuffs during extreme weather and with the British version of so-called 'blizzard conditions' currently gripping the Cotswolds, I wasn't the least bit surprised to see this little fella filling up on seed-mix at the tables in my garden first thing this morning (18th January).
Winter Flood-Plain....With Floods Receding As I understand it, the planning and development people (see also dumb-a*sed, greedy, self-serving sh**s) have decided to build at least two hundred affordable homes across these fields over the next five years! Well, I guess the best of them will at least look very nice featured on the cover of the sales brochures silhouetted by a lovely winter sunset just like this one....though probably with the hapless home-owners taking in the view from their brand-new affordable rooftops!
The current residents and regular visitors to this area, by the way, include two pairs of Heron, a couple of breeding pairs of Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, a pair of frequenting Peregrine Falcon, three species of Owl, several Snipe, a variety of seasonal Waders, countless Buntings, Twite, Yellowhammer and other Finch-type birds, migrant Redstart and Cuckoo, and a host of assorted overwintering Wildfowl. Not to mention the various Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians and a gazillion different Insect and Plant species. Plus (and possibly the saddest of all to someone like me), are the two (at least) Otters who, having moved into the area just a year or so ago, will doubtless soon be feeling considerable pressure to move out again!
Mmm...."Affordable homes"? Isn't that one of those oxymoron thingummies? Oh....and another thing....An additional little surprise waiting in the wings for any sad sap eventually duped into buying a property here, will be the disconcerting discovery that virtually any monthly-paid insurance policy specifically designed to cover all possible flooding scenarios will almost certainly end up exceeding their bl**dy mortgage payments....Though the building company might possibly forget to mention that!
Forest Lumber Road
Ye Olde Branch Dropper (AKA 'The Widowmaker')
Colt's Foot Plentiful this year (2012) and seemingly quite happy with the drier than usual spring conditions.
Spawn of Frog This is some of the not inconsiderable quantity of frog spawn that has appeared in my little wildlife garden pond during early March 2012.
Meanwhile I've been rushing around all over Gloucestershire during past few days, transferring seemingly endless bucketfuls of both Frog and Toad spawn from (so far) eleven assorted large puddles and various sized natural ponds which, in normal years, are relatively full of water and which tend to remain so throughout the spring and well into the summer.
However, this year, a great many such spawning places appear to be drying out at an alarming rate (several have already dried out completely) and with the Met Office currently warning everyone that this year's summer is destined to be the driest in the UK for nearly a hundred years, I decided to relocate as much as possible of the otherwise doomed spawn to a variety of what I hope will be significantly more secure, algae-rich ponds that will remain Frog and Toad friendly for at least the next couple of months or so.
Out of the Woods
My Own Little Nature Reserve Not exactly Yellowstone, but a small handful of wild acres that I promise you, will never ever, ever, ever be built upon....Ever! There's even a little river running through it (though no, no Otter sign as yet) and, whether it's ultimately successful or just a complete disaster, it will at least ensure for all eternity that I will never again have so much as an hour to spare or a penny to my name!
On the plus side however, the site is already being frequented by a wide variety of wildlife, including several Roe Deer (who are already eating my trees), a few Rabbits (who eat everything else), a wiley Fox (who eats the Rabbits), an itinerant Badger (who appears to cut across one corner of the site most evenings), a multiplicity of Mice and Voles, a pair of Kestrels (who nest every year in a farm building across the way apparently), a resident Brown Owl (who helps control the Mice and Vole population with the help of the Kestrels), A big male Stoat whose purposeful tracks I occasionally see entering the Rabbit holes) and a whole host of birds from the inevitable selection of Corvids, Thrushes and Pigeons to a wide variety of Tits, Finches and Buntings.
Meanwhile, I have a dozen or so nest-boxes of various types to put up over the next couple of weeks plus an assortment of home-made insect houses while next winter, I plan to develop a sizeable pond area to be fed and drained by the river as well as erecting a small observation hide nearby. I'm not going to undertake anything too major just yet however, because March marks the start of the nesting season while some species of birds are already sitting on eggs.
Nevertheless, I shall probably plant a few more trees and shrubs here and there and work on developing the base and mid layers a bit. The placing of a few log piles might also prove beneficial sooner rather than later....and then there's the possibility that I might transplant a wider variety of wildflowers onto the site before summer arrives and add a good quantity of meadow flower seed mix later in the autumn....Mustn't overdo it though and get carried away, my family still needs to eat and sleep with a roof over their heads!
I might take a few pictures as I go along.
Late January Sunset 2012
To Spring or Not to Spring? 23rd January, 2012 and nothing out there in the countryside seems to agree with anything else as to whether it's spring already....or not!
A Classic English Water Meadow
A Silver-Ground Carpet Moth....Probably. The wing markings of individual adults can vary quite a bit, but there were a few of them flitting mostly amongst Cleavers in a hedgerow surrounding a wheat crop....and I do at least know that Cleavers is the preferred food-plant of the SGC's larvae. The thing is, after sixty years of immersing myself in the natural world, I still feel a background in police detection work would be the most useful thing when it comes to fully identifying even some of the commonest insect species!
Wood Ant Teamwork An extraordinary little drama played itself out in front of my eyes in the middle of a Gloucestershire woodland yesterday (20th May, 2010). Maddy was with me and I called her across to bear witness to the event....
It was a very warm, but very humid day (more like a day in late July in fact, than one in late Spring). Wood Ants were everywhere, going about their business in that very determined way that they always seem to display. Then I happened to glance down at the ground and noticed the two workers in the picture above struggling to control a very energetic and desperate Centipede that the ants had obviously only just caught. They both had a very firm grip, but the Centipede was strong and the ants were struggling to control it, let alone managing to transport it however far it was to their nest.
Suddenly, they paused and, gripping the creature tightly in their massive jaws, proceeded to stretch it out as far as they could. At this point and just as if it was responding directly to a call for help (which it probably was), a veritable giant of a soldier ant (larger than the two workers put together) appeared out of nowhere, walked up to the stretched-out Centipede and with a single bite of its massive jaws, bit the stricken anthropod cleanly in half, whereupon each worker was subsequently able to proceed relatively unhindered by the now severed halves of their victim.
Maddy, I was pleased to notice, was absolutely enthralled by what she'd seen and both the speed and the efficiency of the ant teamwork employed. She asked me if we could take the time to find the nest and I told her to follow any ant laden with what appeared to be food and simply follow it. Sooner or later it would lead her to the nest. About fifteen minutes later, I heard her call from some distance away and I immediately sent Tess ahead to check if she was ok. She was and with a distinct look of triumph on her face....She'd found the nest all right, more than thirty paces into dense woodland from where she'd begun to follow Anthony (as she'd decided to name the "female" ant she'd finally chosen to stalk) and who had carried a dead Orange-Tip Butterfly all that way, possibly after she'd immobilised it herself or, more likely, after a soldier ant had done it for her.
At this point I entered "lecture" mode and, as Maddy's eyes slowly began to glaze over, I passed on most of what I know about good old belligerent Formica rufa....Most surprising of which, as far as Maddy was concerned is the fact that they are actually a protected species in many countries....not because they are in any way endangered (they're massively prolific in fact), but because they manage to reduce woodland and forest pests on an almost industrial scale. Thus, they are truly considered to be the ultimate forester's friend.
Herb Robert (Foreground) Growing Alongside Bugle
Cygnet Threesome A word to the wise....The only reason I was able to kneel down beside this little family group in order to take these photographs without causing considerable stress to the parent birds (both of whom were present at the time) is simply down to the fact that I am well known to them and have been a familiar and non-threatening figure in their lives for several years. I can assure you that I would never even attempt to do such a thing with any similar family group if I was not equally well known to them. Remember, Swans are renowned for being extremely protective of their young and will not hold back in their attempts to drive away anyone or anything that they suddenly perceive to be a threat.
It's a sad reflection of the age of the digital camera that there's such an alarming increase in the amount of inappropriate behaviour currently being exhibited by the vast majority of self-proclaimed, ego-driven wildlife photographers (amateurs and professionals alike). Photographers who seem prepared to do whatever it takes in order to obtain that all-important "perfect" photograph....The one they hope and pray will be good enough to grace the pages of almost any natural history-orientated publication that's willing to accept the fruits of their ignorance....from "BBC Wildlife Magazine" to "Twitching is for Tw*ts".
I know this only too well because I encounter (and am often forced to deal with) such ignorant behaviour on a regular basis and I despair sometimes when even respected organisations such as the BBC seem keen to arm complete idiots with assorted cameras and film-making equipment with the sole intention of sending them off (without the slightest understanding of the habitats they'll be invading) to film the very creatures (such as Otters and Kingfishers) that I'm struggling so hard to protect from the many and varied vicious morons out there who are so Hell-bent on doing them harm. Still, as long as the Great British Public gets what it wants, their awareness is raised and the ratings are high, what the f*** does it matter!
You need to bear in mind that, while the Simon Kings and Chris Packhams of this generation are busy presenting the Natural World as a wonderfully cosy, cuddly, fluffy sort of place in which all manner of wildlife is simply allowed to get on with whatever it's supposed to be doing, the reality for people like us in the UKNR is very different (increasingly so in fact) and the average TV executive's current manic obsession with fundamentally pointless wildlife-orientated programming ain't exactly helping the situation. Realistically, it would be much more helpful, from a conservation perspective, if all the bl**dy wildlife documentary film-makers and all the self-serving photographers would just stay at at home and leave what precious little wildlife we have left in the world well and truly alone!
Sadly however, no-one's going to make any money that way and egos wont get massaged, so nothing's going to change and I'll have to carry on dragging idiots out of trees for attempting to install video cameras inside Green Woodpecker nesting holes or Brown Owl nest-boxes while conveniently choosing to ignore how much they're totally stressing out the birds themselves....and I'll just have to continue getting stroppy with clueless idiots armed with £10,000 worth of camera and long lens, but absolutely no thought for the emotional state of the Roe Deer that they've been persistently hounding all day....and I'll have to continue forcing myself not to seriously injure the kind of w****rs who I catch doing unbelievable things like digging out a family of Water Voles with a spade just to get a prize-winning shot of them....and then, of course, there'll always be the dozens of twitcher types who suddenly turn up out of the blue positively bristling with cameras and fieldscopes, to trample mindlessly across pristine wildflower meadows or through previously undisturbed woodlands in the hopes of glimpsing an itinerant Icterine Warbler or a wayward White-Backed Woodpecker, but who really just use the countryside as somewhere to make silly competitive lists and park their cars....and so it goes on....and on....each and every week, but the funny thing is, I've never once seen the likes of a Bill Oddie or a Kate Humble risking their necks to confront any of the selfish b******s about any of it!
Spring Gorse....It Smells of Coconuts
Spring Leaf Canopy
Lady's Smock ....or Cuckoo Flower. A plant of the Faerie Folk and therefore, best left well alone. There were one or two May-Day (1st May) celebrations held in and around the Cotswolds this year, but if those responsible for making any of the wildflower garlands used in such celebrations happened to include any Lady's Smock, then they clearly failed to understand the degree of menace traditionally associated with this harmless looking spring flower. In fact, in days gone by, any garland made with even a single stem of Lady's Smock accidentally woven into it would almost certainly have been taken apart and remade, but without the offending spray.
Herefordshire Water-Course Strange to think that, had I been standing in this exact spot little more than a month ago, my head would have just about been under water, but now, with Spring fully underway, the water has receded and the river banks are, once again, bursting into life!
Male Dog's Mercury....The Flowers are the Green Lumpy Wotsits Growing on the Long Spike Thingy Finally, this woodland-based and very poisonous member of the Spurge family has begun to flower (I took these shots on the 12th April, 2010 in Gloucestershire). However, Dog's Mercury needs to flower long before the leaf canopy fully appears in Spring (preferably sometime in February), leaving the woodland floor in comparative darkness, but it's very late this year, probably as a result of the severe cold weather and heavy falls of snow that affected the entire UK in January and throughout February.
The problem now is that it may not have enough time to pollinate as effectively as normal so we may not see quite the same extensive, ankle-high carpets of Dog's Mercury in our woodlands during early Spring next year as we're used to. Add to that the fact that even fewer female flowers appear to be around this year than normal and the problem may prove to be even more serious. Admittedly, it's a fact that there are always more male plants of this species around than females, but the nearest females to the males shown below for example, were a small group of a few dozen plants growing more than a quarter of a mile away with similar cases occurring in each of the seven other woodlands I've visited in the past few days in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire.
Oh well, it's only Dog's Mercury I hear you say. After all, it's of no use to anyone (hence the prefix "Dog"), and it's always been a blight to sheep farmers because some sheep will eat it if they get the chance and become seriously ill. However, we've always used it as an early Spring key-stone species, so it's up to our French boffins on the Continent to eventually decide just how significant this late flowering event actually is and how it ultimately relates to the rest of the woodland habitat.
Remember, it's all about balance and connections. Break the connections and the balance is invariably affected too, no matter how insignificant any single connection might appear to be at the outset.
Working in the Shadow of the Malvern Hills
White-Wing and White-Eye Update (9th April, 2010) I'm very reluctant to even approach the nest-box that White-Wing and White-Eye have claimed as their own, at least when the birds are anywhere in the vicinity. The problem is, that White-Wing (the female) is a relatively new bird to my garden and isn't really all that used to me yet. However, I did manage to get this shot of her earlier today as she sat on the four eggs that I caught a sneak look at a couple of days ago.
Meanwhile, note all the pale-coloured hairs that have been incorporated into the nest itself. Well, they all came from Tess and were gathered up mostly by White-Eye from the patio where Tess is brushed every day. So, I guess it's fair to say that Robins were probably into re-cycling stuff long before us humans.
A Week Spent in My Motor-home Working in Worcestershire (20th March - 26th March) ....and during which time I spotted my first Swallow of 2010 (25th March), as it flew roughly northwards following the course of an old disused railway line, I heard my first Chiff-Chaff (24th March), glimpsed a Stoat enduringly (and somewhat mystifyingly) regaled in its full ermine finery (*!) (23rd March) and managed to watch at least a dozen old black and white movies on DVD, including such exquisite Ealing Studios comedy gems as, "Home and Away" (Jack Warner), "Barnacle Bill" (Alec Guinness), "The Best Days of Your Life" (Alistair Simm and Flora Robson) and "The Maggie" (with Paul Douglas as the much put-upon American)....All totally brilliant!
Mind you, I had time to watch that many movies as well as re-read (albeit many years on) a couple of vintage Robert Heinlein books ("Double Star" and "Farmer in the Sky"), simply because I wouldn't allow Tess to work more than five hours each day this time around and we were, therefore, always back at the van by no later than 1400hrs. After all, she worked so hard throughout most of last week under some very trying conditions and it was obvious to me that she was still very tired.
*The white Stoat incident by the way, is the second of its kind I've experienced this winter....which is a little bit unusual, if only because, most years, the ones living this far south tend not to turn white at all, suggesting, perhaps, that all the severe weather we experienced a few weeks ago affected some of our wildlife a good deal more profoundly than anyone might have imagined.
Grey Alder I know I've talked at incredibly boring length about Alders further below, but hey, what the Heck! Grey Alders are renowned for their strong suckering root systems that soon produce an attractive habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species, each seeking to take full advantage of the forest of dense, fast-growing stems that soon appear above ground. Alders in general meanwhile, are frequently used as an aid to reclaim otherwise unproductive landscapes with relatively infertile soils, such as those found beneath old rubbish dumps and former industrial sites. Alders are able to thrive in such places thanks to the ability of their root systems to "fix" nitrogen into the soil in much the same way as Clover, but because they tend to fix far more nitrogen into the soil than they need just for themselves, there is more than enough left over for many other tree and plant species to become established as well.
Alders will grow naturally just about anywhere the sun happens to shine, though they do tend to favour riverbanks (where their suckering root systems serve to bind the soil and help prevent erosion) or exceedingly waterlogged and marshy ground. These days, Grey Alder is often planted on motorway embankments to help bind the soil after it's been built-up by bulldozers.
The wood of the Alder is generally considered to be of little value commercially, though it was once renowned for its durability and resistance to damp and used for things like the supporting frameworks of wooden-type river jettys. Interestingly, it was thousands of piles made from the trunks of Italian Alder trees that the city of Venice was built upon and it's only now, after many hundreds of years, that they are beginning to fail.
Bibury Landscape Most people know of Bibury because of its famous Arlington Row, its old woollen mill or its trout farm situated beside the River Coln. However, if they were to only make the effort to walk no more than a quarter of a mile uphill, they'd soon discover that the picturesque little village so beloved of tourists from all over the world is actually surrounded by some of the most attractive open landscape to be found anywhere in the Cotswolds, if not the whole of England.
Bullfinch Approaching Full Breeding Plumage My absolute favouritist British bird, but once hunted almost to extinction mostly by fruit farmers throughout the 1950s and 1960s simply because it once numbered in its millions across the UK and hundreds at a time would descend upon fruit orchards each spring and devour huge percentages of the trees' fruit buds. Then they continued to decline even more drastically during the 1970s and 1980s due to the excessive and badly thought-out applications of intensive farming methods. Sadly, for years we (the UKNR) have been lucky if we've each been able to record more than one or two sightings a day. More recently however, we've been noticing that their numbers appear to be stabilising in certain locations, while in others, such as here in the Cotswolds, there are even signs of a limited recovery. We continue therefore, to use them, as we do the Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting, as a primary keystone species for data-gathering purposes and make a note of the total numbers seen and the exact locations of all sightings.
Meanwhile, I've always been delighted that a few individuals have periodically chosen to visit the bird-feeders in my garden (particularly those containing black sunflower seeds which have always been a firm favourite), but since the summer of 2009, I have been aware of several different individuals making far more frequent visits and now it would appear that a pair (the male of which is pictured above) are territorially established in the large wooded area at the end of my garden and will, hopefully, choose to breed there later in the spring.
...Except that certain so-called environmental "experts" (otherwise known as environmental tw*ts) at both the Highways Agency and Cotswold County Council have decided (in their infinite ignorance of how the Natural World actually works in terms of balance and connections) to cut down and remove all the trees deemed to have died in the afore-mentioned woodlet, as well as clear out all the undergrowth which, in turn, will see an immediate end to any chance at all of Bullfinches nesting there, not to mention the two pairs of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, the Nuthatches and the Tree-Creepers to name but a few! Gone too, will be sufficient trees to host the flocks of winter Twite so often interspersed with the occasional Yellowhammers and Linnets....and the bushes so heavily laden in the autumn with the berries that never fail to attract scores of Fieldfare and Redwing or even the odd itinerant flock of Waxwing. The Corvids love it there too and I've often glanced up to see the odd Raven or two staring down at me from the treetops. Swallows, Swifts and Housemartins as well as three species of Bat are attracted to the myriad variety of flying insects that originate from the very undergrowth the "Idiot Brigade" plan so enthusiastically to tear out, while the very successful bat-boxes and nest-boxes I've climbed several trees to install at my own expense will, presumably, also be removed!
Oh well, that's progress for you I guess, but at least we'll have a much clearer view of the main road once the woodlet has been relieved of around 40% of its trees as well as all the climbing-type vines and every single smaller tree and shrub insolent enough to grow there. It will, I'm sure, look very neat and tidy....Plus, we'll be able to hear the traffic pass along the main road beyond much more clearly as we sit in our garden of a summer evening, especially once all that ugly, seemingly pointless greenery has been removed! Mmm....Perhaps I should just join in by tearing up my beloved wildflower beds, filling in the wildlife pond and cutting down all my own trees and shrubs. Oh....and then I could dispose of all those stupid bird-feeders and cover my entire garden with decking, paving slabs and gravel like the rest of the bl**dy country and be done with it!
Anyway, as I've probably mentioned a couple of times previously, it was more than fifty years ago that Bullfinches got me into so much trouble with the police after I shot a farmer in the backside with an air-rifle for paying local kids thrupence (about £1.00 in new money) a bucket to kill as many of the pesky birds as possible and, believe me, it takes an awful lot of Bullfinches to fill an old-style galvanised bucket!
Lunar Halo "Ring around the Moon, rain around the corner" is an age-old country saying that predicts predominantly wet weather for the next day or two. In fact, the halo effect is most commonly observed when it appears to be encircling a full Moon (as above) and is caused by Moonlight passing through a build-up of moisture suspended in the Earth's atmosphere. Meanwhile, I more or less managed to capture the halo shown in the above photograph just after midnight on the 1st March using just my little Ricoh pocket camera. Though interestingly and despite the home-spun predictive philosophy, the following day turned out to be the sunniest and warmest so far in 2010.
Localised Snow Showers Weather forecasters had predicted localised snow showers for the 19th February, but I can't believe that even they had anticipated just how "local" those showers would actually be, at least not up here in the Cotswolds. I took this picture just as one such shower proceeded to envelope a distant farm, but less than a minute later, the sun had taken refuge behind the mother of all black clouds and a veritable blizzard suddenly hammered into Maddy, Tess and me. Within Five minutes however, the "blizzard" had well and truly passed over, the sun shone in a clear sky once more and everything had returned to normal!
Struggling Spring Normally, by this time of the year, our parks. gardens and roadside verges are ablaze with the yellow of countless Daffodils, but all the snow of late has held them back and these are the only ones that I've actually seen in bloom so far. They were growing on a south-facing grass embankment in Wiltshire, but even these have been taken by surprise by more snow that fell overnight and throughout this morning (19th February). All we need now though, is a couple of days of bright sunshine and all the Daffodils will come out at the same time, along with all the Crocuses and Primroses. The Snowdrops are with us already because they're tough little blighters and a few Celandines too, but it's the lack of colour around us at the moment and not just the cold that makes it feel as though winter is still very much with us.
Above and Below....Blood Trail Barely an hour into our day and Tess suddenly picked up on a scent that seemed to make her very agitated. I allowed her to follow it for a while, but then decided to turn back on our tracks when I realized she was actually following a trail made up of the paw prints and the occasional blood splatter of a wounded Fox leading back in the direction from which we'd come. We began to backtrack therefore and continued following the scent in the opposite direction for more than twenty minutes until Tess finally led me to a particular hedgerow growing along one side of a large field.
At this point, she became even more agitated and kept jumping up at me and even barked a couple of times. Then I saw the Fox lying under the hedge. It was motionless, but I told Tess to sit and stay while I checked it out because it looked as though it might still be alive. Sadly, however, it had died only shortly before we arrived on the scene. The body was still fairly warm and flexible, while the tongue was still moist and the eyes only slightly glazed.
The cause of death wasn't immediately apparent until I rolled the unfortunate animal over and discovered that it had been blasted with a shotgun probably from a distance of about twenty or thirty yards. The wounds to its left side and flank were extensive and death had probably been caused by a combination of blood loss and shock.
Now, I fully understand the necessity for a steady, measured culling of sick, diseased and possibly very elderly Foxes in rural areas in order to maintain a healthier population overall (something desperately needed with regard to their urban cousins, few of which reach even two years of age because of sickness or disease compared to the seven years average of Foxes out in the open countryside). However, the job should always be done by a skilled marksman using an appropriate firearm and ammunition fit for purpose. I'm totally against either hunting with hounds, trapping, snaring or poisoning, while the use of a twelve-bore shotgun to despatch what was obviously a perfectly healthy animal smacks of cretinism beyond the pale. Whoever did this is an idiot of gargantuan proportions, if only because this animal was probably shot the previous evening, whereupon it dragged itself at least half a mile in what must have been absolute agony before finally crawling into the hedgerow where it lay frightened and confused until it died just minutes before Tess led me to it.
There are some sick, evil b*stards in this world and finding things like this is, for me at least, very upsetting. Nonetheless, I was really pleased with the way that Tess, not only picked up the scent initially, but then reacted positively by leading me to the stricken animal in less than half an hour from the outset. After all, she might easily lead me to a similarly injured animal next time and I'll actually be able to help it. Tess is a life-saver, not a life-taker and I know that she found this incident almost as upsetting as I did in her own little way.
A Beautiful and Obviously Healthy Animal Just Butchered by Complete Morons Who Have Absolutely No Understanding of the Balance of Things in the Wild
An Old Crumbling Cotswold Stone Wall The sun made an unexpected appearance in the bluest of bright blue skies in Gloucestershire today (9th February), though it was quite late in the afternoon. Still, it gave me the opportunity to take a few landscape-type pictures, including the one shown above and the four efforts below.
It had been an eventful day too, especially with regards to the weather because Tess and I had already been subjected to heavy spells of rain and snow during the morning while working among the high rolling hills of Herefordshire.
Bright Blue Skies Alright, but Frequently Invaded by Dark and Brooding Bands of Thick Rolling Clouds.
The Bright, Crisp, Late-Winter Light Cast Deep Impenetrable Shadows Across the Farmer's Patchwork Landscape.
Heading Home at Last.
Ever Longer Shadows
Ever longer shadows Striding 'cross the earth Fleeing from the setting sun For all that they are worth
Yet night-time soon will meet them And greet them as a friend Accept and then absorb them To dignify their end
(By Daisy W, my Mum....Date unknown)
"What Evil Lurks Within Thee Child....?" The poor old Alder tree was, for centuries, considered to be the embodiment of evil, playing host to the malignant spirit of the much-feared Alder king, King Erlkonig (more commonly known in popular literature these days as the Elf King). I should imagine though that this was a legend simply born out of the fact that when you cut into the wood of the Alder tree with a knife, it goes a deep orangey-red colour rather as if it's bleeding (the wood that is, not the knife), a feature particularly noticeable when it gets wet.
On the other hand, Alder wood turns a far more socially acceptable yellowy colour when it's seasoned and was commonly used in the old days for making broom handles. I remember how, when I was a boy, genuine Gypsy women would come knocking at the door in some of the more rural areas, armed with baskets of clothes pegs for sale. These usually comprised of two crudely shaped pieces of Hazel wood bound together at one end with either strips of tin or leather or short lengths of wire (the latter probably obtained from the local farmer's barbed-wire fence). The Gypsy women would always have other things for sale as well, such as Alderwood clogs or bunches of "lucky" heather, but if you offered to buy at least a dozen clothes pegs for a penny each, then the Gypsy you bought them from would usually be prepared to return your generosity by placing a curse (at your request) on any badly behaved children in the neighbourhood (more effective than any poxy modern-day ASBO believe me)!
Anyway, there was one boy in particular when I was about seven years old, who delighted in making my life a misery at primary school and one day, when a Gypsy woman came to my Gran's door selling clothes pegs made from Hazel and clogs made from Alderwood, I begged my Gran to give me a small advance on the money I earned by tending to the daily needs of her many and various farm animals and rushed to purchase twelve clothes pegs. I then asked the Gypsy woman if she wouldn't mind placing a curse on my tormentor and she promised that she would.
Whether she actually did or not I shall never know, but before the month was out, both myself and the boy I'd requested be cursed had been struck down by the dreaded whooping cough! Worryingly affected by what was a serious illness in those days, I was extremely poorly and kept away from school for weeks on end, but I survived, thanks mostly (I'm convinced) to the ministrations of my herbalist Grandmother who provided me with all kinds of herbal-based concoctions and decoctions, as well as weekly blood-letting sessions involving very large and unpleasant-looking medicinal leeches. Sadly however, the other boy died despite eventually being admitted into hospital and the guilt I felt over his demise was something that lay heavy on my shoulders for years afterwards. In fact, even now I can't help feeling that I was considerably to blame!
Silly to feel that way? Probably. Just a coincidence? Almost certainly, but it's always there in the darker recesses of my mind and I've never been entirely able to rid myself of feeling at least some degree of responsibility....even though I obviously didn't want him dead, but rather for him to possibly grow huge, hairy and embarrassing warts all over his face....or just maybe for his dick to shrivel up and drop off!
As for the evil old Alder tree, I bought my Mum a pair of the Gypsy's Alder-wood clogs a few days later for 3/6d (quite a lot in those days and all the money I had in the world at the time), so maybe King Erlkonig had something to do with it as well! The clogs meanwhile, were meant as a present for Mum's birthday, but they turned out to be way too small. She always treasured them though and I decided to keep them after she died in 2003 and still have them tucked away in a cupboard somewhere to this day.
Eye-Contact I've already spoken a fair bit about Long-Tailed Tits here and there on my websites, but I added these two pictures (taken in daylight this time) to compliment the two night-time shots below. It wont be long however, before all the little flocks of Bumbarrels will be separating into pairs and disappearing from our gardens back into the countryside in order to build their extraordinary flask-shaped nests so beautifully constructed as they always are of moss, lichen and spider's silk and in which they lay as many as a dozen eggs.
Now, I've always had a bee in my bonnet about injustice and, in particular, the rapidly increasing number of profoundly ignorant and terminally self-centred morons amongst us who repeatedly insist on mistreating or riding roughshod over anyone or anything weaker than they or less able to stick up for themselves. I've always been like it, but unfortunately, this has led to a great many confrontations over the years, the most recent example taking place yesterday, 30th March, when I insisted that a youngish, perfectly able-bodied couple remove their 4x4 from a parking space exclusively designated for the disabled. Obviously, they didn't like being told by some grumpy old git what they could or couldn't do and an argument subsequently ensued. The guy moved his vehicle in the end mind you, but only when it became clear that I was prepared to follow them around wherever they went and draw attention to their (typical for these days) total lack of consideration for those less fortunate than themselves in a very loud voice.
Sooner or later no doubt, I'll probably be doing something even more suicidal, such as tipping the litter dropped by some dribbling idiot parked in his car in a lay-by somewhere back into his lap via his still open window (as happened last summer) and the guy will simply reach across to his glove compartment, take out a 9mm and pop a peaked hat of some description into my apologetic bottom (is that what they say? I think that's what they say)!
Anyway, I might add more about yesterday's little fracas on the current diary page of the .com site, but meanwhile, all this unpleasantness reminds me of another occasion fifty years ago when I was about ten years old and I happened across two bigger and older boys in the process of destroying a Long-Tailed Tit's nest, but not before first removing an egg each for their own bird's-egg collections (a very common practice as late as the 1950s) and then smashing the rest!
Not surprisingly (and especially when you consider my previous record of stabbing my Uncle Jack in the leg with a kitchen knife because he punched my Aunt Emma in the face or the time I shot a local fruit farmer in the backside with an air-gun for paying local kids 3d a bucket for any Bullfinches they managed to kill or when I whacked Phil Wotsisname on the side of his knee as hard as I could with a rounders bat for throwing stones at birds), the red-mist descended almost instantly and I flew at both boys in an uncontrollable rage with arms and legs flailing in all directions. The end result of course was that I received a very sound and thoroughly memorable beating, irrespective of how much I believed myself to be in the right at the time! Finally, they took it in turns to spit on me repeatedly as I lay there in the long grass, battered and bruised, my face bloodied and one of my fingers broken, the self-same finger in fact, that I distinctly remember to this day one of them grabbing hold of and bending back as far as it would go....and then bending it back a whole load more just to see what would happen!
Incidentally, I did eventually get my own back on both of them a couple of years later, but that's another story and one of which I am most definitely not proud. Thankfully though, the hot-blooded red-mist tendencies gradually declined as I grew older, but only to be replaced eventually by far more worrying bouts of military-related, ice-cold, PTSD-induced behavioural problems that always leave me shaking uncontrollably, but over which I am gradually achieving a greater and greater degree of control. Plus, I'm no longer doing such things as visiting various degrees of violence upon groups of louts who use live, rolled-up hedgehogs as footballs for example (that was serious doggy doo-doos at the time) or repeatedly pouring paint-stripper over the roof of the new Mercedes belonging to the stonemason who fiddled my Mum out of more than £400 when she confessed to losing the receipt and he suddenly denied that she'd ever given him the cash up-front for a dedicated gravestone for my Dad's grave shortly after he died in the mid 1980s!
Please note at this point however, that I most definitely DO NOT consider myself to be some kind of self-assigned vigilante-type tough guy, but rather a profoundly screwed-up ex-trooper with deep on-going psychological issues that I'm at last beginning to get a handle on, if only because of the continued and unwavering support I get from my immediate family and a small handful of very loyal friends....though possibly also a little bit because of the almost twelve years of weekly psycho-therapy sessions I was fortunate enough to be given from 1993 to 2005.
Such "episodes" from my past, as well as my continued, seemingly uncontrollable tendency to confront people who think they can do what they like, when they like to whoever they like, are why the Boss is still so keen for me to have a working partner and why Macca was with me yesterday (as it happened), even though he was sitting in his own vehicle situated across the car park, photographing the entire incident (just in case) and generally finding the whole thing bl***y hilarious....the B****rd!).
Nocturnal Surprise I (First Effort, but Possibly with the Camera Positioned a Little Too Close to the Bird-Table) The Sparrow Terrace-type set of nest-boxes that I put up under the lower eaves at the front of the house a couple of years ago soon proved to be an enormous success....if only with the Blue Tits. In fact, most, if not all, of the nesting compartments have been occupied by several different pairs of the feisty blue and yellow reprobates throughout each breeding season.
Interestingly, I have also counted as many as fourteen Blue Tits shortly before dawn in the depths of winter leaving a single compartment of the same terrace where they must have decided to roost communally during the coldest of the cold nights, presumably huddling together for warmth in one great big ball of beaks, tails and feathers.
However, the heavy snow and desperately cold weather of the past few weeks has resulted in one small flock of local Long-Tailed Tits doing exactly the same thing. Very much a communal species anyway, small, straggly and probably family-orientated groups of LTTs have been drawn to the bird-feeders in my garden for almost two decades, showing a particular preference for the peanuts, sunflower hearts and suet blocks, but I've never known them to roost in any of my garden nest-boxes before....although I am aware that such behaviour is not uncommon elsewhere. Still, it's always a delight to see them arrive, whether they've intended roosting in the boxes or not and I've been fascinated by their overly neurotic little antics since I was a boy way back in the 1950s, a time when LTTs were, by and large, very rarely seen in gardens at all.
Yes, I'm perfectly aware of how dull all this must seem to people with "proper" lives to lead, but one brand-new piece of LTT behaviour of which I was previously completely unaware has made itself manifestly clear to me over the last couple of days....or rather, the last couple of nights....
The thing is, we don't have the downstairs TV switched on very much these days for the simple reason that I do all my paperwork of an evening or need to read work-related books, documents and stuff and generally prefer to while away the evening hours chatting to various members of my family about Life, the Universe or anything in-between or maybe by watching a proper, decent film or two which I've previously rented from Lovefilm.com on DVD. Sadly (and perfectly understandably I guess), my wife and daughter (who both positively exude normal-ness) would much rather watch their beloved soaps and assorted dramas et al on the sets upstairs than spend all evening listening to my constant, moany little comments about how TV isn't what it used to be or how the relentless dumbing-down of British broadcasting in general and the brain-numbing impact of reality TV in particular has totally undermined the very fabric of modern British society!
Anyway, the point is that because the TV hasn't been on much beyond tea-time, the Simpsons and the evening news, I've been aware of very faint scritchy-scratchy scraping noises coming from just outside the living-room window roughly between 2200hrs and midnight. Suspecting therefore, that something (probably a rat) was somehow managing to access the free-hanging bird-table situated just below the Sparrow terrace, I was determined to catch the culprit in the act, so I decided to set up one of my cameras connected to the new stealth PIR trip-shutter and flash thingy....and, hey presto, here are the results....
Amazingly (though perhaps not when you consider how scarce food must have been for almost all wild birds of late), the camera managed to snap what I assume are members of the self-same posse of Long-Tailed Tits currently roosting in the Sparrow Terrace and who must be doing the bird-world equivalent of me sneaking into the kitchen in the middle of the night to raid the fridge! More interesting still was the fact that these normally excessively vocal little birds were all as silent as the night....I guess it's all about adapting to overcome.
Nocturnal Surprise II (A Second Attempt with the Camera Positioned Slightly Further Away)
Ghost Tree No, not a negative of a positive and absolutely no photoshop involved. This was taken at altitude in thick, low cloud on 15th January in Herefordshire where Tess and I spent about five hours doing ranger stuff and practising SAR thingummies.
With the snow beginning to thaw right across the South and South-West of the UK and heavy rain forecast for the next day or two, I felt we needed to find a location where the snow was still fairly pristine and thick on the ground in order to get at least one more day of practise and that meant finding a decent-sized hill to climb.
Anyway, it was a good day in the end, although quite tiring and oddly macabre due to the absolute stillness of the air and the much-reduced visibility. Nothing appeared to move at all and even the sound of my own footfalls seemed muffled in a spooky kind of way, but then I heard what I immediately recognised as the unmistakeable twittering flight-call of a Swallow! I called for Tess to stay still and listened disbelievingly for a good thirty seconds or more....and then I spied the bird itself, but it wasn't a Swallow at all, but a solitary Starling standing on a fence post almost thirty metres away and just about visible through the steadily thickening cloud.
Starlings, of course, are wonderful mimics and excel at imitating the sounds made by almost anything from car alarms, electric drills and mobile phone ring-tones to the calls and songs of almost any species of bird you care to mention. Anyway, despite feeling slightly disappointed that it wasn't actually a very early (or indeed, a very late) itinerant Swallow, the incident did go some way towards proving that Starlings must surely have a reasonably good long-term memory, one that enables them to continue imitating the call of a bird species that left our shores for sunnier climes at least five months ago....Unless that is, the Starling somehow managed to hear a Swallow calling on the wing far more recently than that somewhere!
-15C, but the Sunset Across the Higher Hills was Beautiful
Feed the Birds....2d a Bag Above and below, the enigmatic and persistently distant Ruby....Mate to White-Eye and probable parent to pretty little Holly. Ruby was one of the first to take advantage of the many scoopfuls of birdseed I spread liberally around the garden first thing this morning.
The Old Quarry
Beautiful "Buckshot" the Pheasant This is Buckshot, the hen Pheasant. I stumbled across her as she was slowly bleeding to death in a hedgerow almost a month ago. She was riddled with tiny pellets from a shotgun blast and her left wing was completely shattered. Normally, when I come across game-birds or even so-called "nuisance" birds in this sort of condition, I feel obliged to put them out of their not inconsiderable pain and misery. However, there was something about the look in Buckshot's eyes that made me think twice about despatching her and so I decided instead to take her home where I anaesthetized her with chloroform and operated on her to remove no less than nineteen pellets from various parts of her body and to patch up her wing as best I could. Subsequent infection was a strong possibility, but she survived the most critical period somehow and has seemed to thrive in a hospital cage up in my garden shed.
I'll be setting her free soon, despite the fact that she'll never fly again. Pheasants aren't particularly good fliers anyway, but as long as she can get to the lower branches of some convenient tree in order to roost, then she'll probably be ok. Besides, not being able to fly could be an advantage, as it's only when Pheasants are flushed by beaters and forced to take flight in the open that they end up being shot!
Despite being a "proper" country boy born and bred and with a gamekeeper uncle and an old-fashioned-type herbalist grandmother as my childhood mentors, I've always despised the way that game-birds such as Pheasants are deliberately bred just so that dribbling idiots armed with popguns can get their "sporting" jollies from blasting them out of the sky! As I've commented elsewhere however, I would just love to have seen some of these guys (most of them wealthy townies nowadays) attempting to test their testosterone-driven shooting prowess against targets that actively return their fire....usually with a vengeance!
You see, we used to use what you would call "proper" firearms back in my day....Weapons such as the old SUIT-sighted LM1A1 SL Rifle, with a killing range of more than half a thousand yards against an enemy often better armed than we were....In fact, you'd be amazed at the difference it makes to your determination to shoot stuff knowing that your own head could be made to explode like a water melon at any moment!
As for the shooting of birds being lauded as a sport? I really don't think so. Killing anything at all can never be justified as any kind of a sport as far as I'm concerned and I'm perfectly aware of how unpopular my outspoken opinions on the subject tend to be with a few of the country locals around here. Mind you, I don't remember ever turning round to see any of THEM risking their own necks back in the 1970s and 1980s while on various recce foot patrols with anyone from my troop (or any other military unit for that matter), prowling the fields, lanes and hedgerows of the Irish border or the streets of Londonderry or Belfast at a time when things were so utterly depressing and when I eventually lost my very best friend to a sniper's bullet....and the balance of my mind to the utter horror and futility of it all!
(Above and Below) Winter Woodlands I love to be out and about in these kinds of conditions and this sort of weather, but the light was so subdued all day today and so much of the landscape covered in snow and ice that virtually nothing seemed to have any colour. The photo above for example, came out almost completely monochrome, while the one below looks more like an old-fashioned sepia print. Meanwhile, I've added a few more woodland shots to the "Forest and Woodlands" page and four or five snowy farmland efforts to the "Mountain, Moorland, Meadow and Farmland" page.
Christmas "Holly" This little sweety-pie showed up in my garden just a couple of weeks ago and is already very tame. In fact, I was able to take these pictures from no more than a metre away as I topped up the bird-feeders this morning (19th December). Meanwhile, I have a sneaking suspicion that she might be one of White-Eye's offspring from last summer because you only have to watch her for a few moments with White-Eye around to realise that she's still very much daddy's little girl. As for calling her Holly....Well, it's Christmas and my wife thought it was an appropriate name.
Sadly, I haven't seen Uppity Bill since the early summer and I know for a fact that Blink was killed by the neighbour's cat in July because I found him myself on the front lawn. The elderly DT also went missing around that time and I'm finally convinced that both Thelma and Louise have also climbed the rainbow staircase to the great big aviary in the sky. I'm pleased to be able to report however, that Two-Tone is still very much in evidence, but worried that Scraps the one-legged Chaffinch has been missing for about four months now. Oh well, these things are bound to happen sooner or later, so it's nice to have a brand-new character hopping in and out of the garden all of a sudden to brighten the cold winter days.
Two Very Different Dawns The first (shown above), which I photographed yesterday (10th December), was a typical December, "red dawn in the morning" type of sunrise, but which actually heralded a beautiful sunny day, the first half of which I spent with Tess at the Cotswold Water Park in North Wiltshire and the second half on Cleeve Common above Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. I snapped the second dawn image however (pictured below), the following day about an hour or two before taking my Daughter to school and then driving on to Herefordshire. As you can see, the sun was already beginning to burn away a blanket of fog which had appeared after a particularly clear and chilly night. Sadly however, it failed to produce the sunny blue skies of the previous day and, even as I type this caption after returning home later this afternoon, the temperature has failed to rise significantly, meaning that, for the first time this December, it's actually starting to feel a little bit more like winter.
Forest Bivouack As the light begins to fail, it's not so very difficult to understand how ancient man developed such a profound fear of the forest....Even the trees themselves seem to adopt a far more menacing aspect, appearing, as they inevitably do, to close in on you as night consumes the last vestiges of light, reaching down to grab at you with gnarly old fingers, while the wind whispers and gossips through the swaying branches high above and malevolent clouds scud their way across the darkening sky!
Werewolves, Vampires and all manner of mythic Faerie Folk are still rumoured by some to prowl the wooded trails of a night and few sane men would ever venture more than a stone's throw into the sinister darkness by themselves.
Here then, are a small handful of pictures I took in late November during a two day and a single (very long) night's stay in one of the UK's oldest and most myth-infested forests....
Tess Stretches Her Legs At First Light I just don't understand why spending a long, cold, very wet, late November night in the middle of a vast, creaky old forest alive with spooky, inexplicable noises together with a damp, farty Labrador in the cramped confines of a tiny bivi-tent isn't a much more popular pastime with almost everyone.
Early Morning Mist ....rises from the small river meandering its way through the valley about fifty metres below my bivouack.
Berry Forecast As late Autumn moves inexorably towards early Winter, the sheer profusion of berries throughout the forest warn of a bitter Winter to come, but as an old country saying also argues that "a cold November heralds a warm Christmas" and since, this year, we've had one of the mildest Novembers on record, maybe the berries have got it right this time.
A Warming Day and the Early Mist Has Fled ....though heavy rain was already on its way.
Winter Greys I know that my photographic efforts leave much to be desired, but I can't help observing and then trying to capture in some small measure the tremendous natural beauty I see in even the most mundane of things....Sunlight picking out a few grey, leafless branches growing from the twisted boughs of a moss-covered tree is more attractive to me than any sleek Italian sports car or self-obsessed, silicon-enhanced page three fame junkie could ever be and that's the way I've always been....More than a little odd compared to most men....Very much a maverick in the true sense....A loner. Always content with my own company, but generally awkward and uneasy in the company of others. Basically I guess, a man ideally suited to the job I do.
Above and below....The Mysterious (and Potentially Deadly) World of Fungi Taken at altitude, a Dapperling of some sort perhaps and probably quite poisonous therefore. Fortunately, the Boss employs a number of very clever, mycologically-orientated people further along the line who are far more expert on identifying such things than us and who usually correct our data when we're wrong which, sadly, tends to be all too often in my case.
Unhealthy-Looking Hen House Sparrow (Above and Below) In the wake of the catastrophic decline in the national Tree Sparrow population comes the humble House Sparrow. Both are disappearing from town and country at an unbelievable rate. Fast enough in fact, to result in both species becoming virtually extinct within the next ten Years!
....but why? Well, no-one seems to be absolutely certain despite a number of theories currently on offer....and I don't have any answers either. However, in my job, I do get to notice things, if only because that's basically what my job involves....noticing stuff and I've certainly noticed a few things of late with regard to the poor old Tree and House Sparrows.
It's not my place to gainsay the experts, but I will say this....I have noticed more and more examples of wild Sparrows apparently suffering from one sort of ailment or another than ever before. In the last two years alone I have observed no less than 101 such cases, mostly examples of what I've assumed to be severe mite infestations of one sort or another or even cases where birds have displayed similar symptoms to advanced psittacosis, scaly-face, scaly-leg, eye infections, assorted feather complaints, squirty poo (I have trouble spelling diarthingywotsit) and beak deformity problems.
The bird I've photographed here was one of seven similarly affected individuals (male and female) in a flock of fifteen. All seven appeared to be slightly out of sorts and it took me an entire day to establish that few, if any, of the seven affected birds were feeding even half as much as the normal birds.
Just a localised problem you think? If only that were the case. The 101 examples that I've already mentioned were spread fairly evenly across seven counties in the south-west of the UK, including Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Cornwall, while only in Oxfordshire and Devonshire have things appeared to remain "normal" based on my own observations.
Ok, I'm just one man doing the noticing and wild birds have always suffered with the usual multitude of diseases and ailments....but never, I believe, on this scale! So, could it be that something out there is causing many of our wild birds to have much lower immunity or resistance to illnesses or the side-effects of conditions such as mite infestations than ever before? Or are there, for example, simply more mites around for some reason to infest more birds and make them poorly?
Well, I occasionally manage to obtain samples of droppings or even feathers of infected/affected birds and I'm able to send them off to our lab guys for analysis. Meanwhile however, I just carry on noticing stuff and hope that it's all just a blip on the radar.
Notice the total lack of facial plumage compared to the normal, healthy hen House Sparrow shown below. Mites? Possibly, but I didn't see any of the seven affected birds from the flock to which the above individual belonged so much as attempt to either scratch themselves or rub their faces on branches or somesuch.
Possibly something to do with local mite-infested nest-boxes then (the photos were taken in late October 2009 by the way)? Mmm....Maybe. Nest-boxes do need to be cleaned out at the end of every breeding season because mites will otherwise easily survive the winter months. Also, the huge increase in the number of people feeding birds in recent years, but failing to clean the feeders regularly has definitely led to increased gastric problem-based mortalities amongst Greenfinches, Chaffinches and probably House Sparrows as well....and all these things tend to add up, especially when calculated on a national scale.
A Perfectly Healthy Hen House Sparrow
The Ugly Duckling Two people this time, a very rude (to my way of thinking) man and his wife, went out of their way today to tell me that they think Tess is an unattractive-looking Labrador. What's wrong with everybody these days? Well, I must be seeing a completely different dog to all these idiots or maybe I'm just biased. Mind you, the man looked a little taken aback when I replied that he didn't make a particularly attractive-looking Labrador either, but that at least his bitch probably loves him!
Yellow Brain Looking for all the world like a half-chewed wine gum (and about the same size in this case), this extraordinary-looking fungus is supposed to be just as edible, though I've no idea what it tastes like nor do I particularly wish to know. I took this photo on the 3rd November in pouring rain in the middle of the typically spectacular Forest of Dean.
Yellow Brain has a tendency to dessicate and become very hard and shrivelled under dry conditions, but rain will usually serve to revitalise it sufficiently so that it can continue with its production of spores which occur all over its outer surface.
I've photographed scores of different species of fungi over the years, many of them in Autumn, but today I was hoping to catch sight of the very rare (in Britain) Scarlet Splash Fungus, a kind of redder-looking version of Yellow Brain. I was also hoping to photograph the equally fascinating shiny, tan-coloured Leafy Brown Fungus, but sadly, I saw neither this time around.
Autumn Colours....Almost an Impressionist Rendering
Very Young Common Puffball Supposedly edible when young (and necessarily white all the way through when cut in half), by the time the little spines have completely dropped off these specimens, they will be yellowing slightly and have become distinctly inedible. Nevertheless, I've always been fascinated by Puffballs and I remember how, more than fifty years ago back in my primary school days, I took several mature brown specimens in at the start of the Autumn term for the class nature table (for which I was always responsible) and to demonstrate to the other children how clouds of minute spores could be forced through a hole in the top of each fruiting body simply by squeezing gently on the sides. In the wild, this emitting of spores is usually triggered by drops of rain hitting the Puffball itself.
Incidentally, these particular specimens were growing on the side of a rotting log in a small wood on a hilltop in the Cotswolds in Late October and if you're stupid enough to think it might be worth testing the edibility of similar young Puffballs for yourself, then you'd better be absolutely 100% certain that you can tell the difference between them and young versions of the incredibly poisonous Common Earthball....but then it's your a*se so it's tough sh*t if you really are that stupid and believe me, doing a Chris Packham and thinking it's enough to set off into the woods to search for edible fungi armed with nothing more than a Dorling Kindersly's "Pocket Nature Guide to Fungi" just ain't going to hack it! Plus, if one day any of you decide to sign up for one of those ridiculous wilderness survival courses that have become so popular of late and the so-called "expert" instructors start banging on about using various types of fungi as survival food, then tell them exactly where they can stick their Penny Buns and Crab Brittlegills because there's a damn good chance it wont be what they say it is and besides, there's more nutritional value in a Big Mac than any kind of edible mushroom or toadstool....Well, maybe not a Big Mac, but certainly a piece of cardboard!
Tess ....during her very first outing in her brand-new, all-weather, all-terrain work harness....and don't worry, I've now adjusted the straps so that they wont come loose.
I wasn't at all surprised that she took to this one immediately as she's always worn a harness, but I was amused when I walked into the living room this morning, only to discover that, not only had she purloined her new harness from its designated hook in the garage, but was actually trying to put it on by negotiating her head through one of the loops! Sadly however, even if she'd succeeded, it would have been completely back to front....Silly Tess! Mind you, I can't really say anything because I discovered only last night that I must have put my underpants on back to front when I got dressed in the morning....Unless that is, I was once again the victim of yet another practical joke initiated by my old adversaries the totally annoying Underpants Pixies.
Inner City Silhouette You may find it difficult to believe, but this shot was taken smack-bang in the middle of a very depressed and typically run-down inner-city housing estate. I took lots of other shots as well that day, none of which provide even the slightest clue as to where they were taken. You see, I just happen to believe that there's natural beauty to be found almost anywhere. It's just that, sometimes, you have to be prepared to look that little bit harder to find it. Sadly however, as I observe the thoroughly depressing behaviour of many of the people who inhabit such places, I grow more and more convinced that they'll never be able to see it for themselves, let alone learn to appreciate it.
Chough Reconnaissance One of the advantages (usually) of having a dog with you if you're interested in birds and when you're out and about, is that many species are prepared to come much closer to you than would normally be the case simply because they're nosy little blighters and want to know what the big four-legged furry thing is up to. This particularly applies to most Corvids and even some species of Raptor and the Chough shown in the picture above was one of a pair who proved to be a lot nosier than most. In fact, he flew to within five metres of us several times in a more inquisitive than aggressive kind of way above the cliffs close to Church Cove (see opposite) during our stay on the Lizard Peninsular in October.
Choughs are doing extremely well on the Lizard and I had sightings of them at more than a dozen places along the coastline between Coverack and Mullion. I was also very interested to note some of their other many and varied antics as well, particularly with regard to their behaviour towards Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, Merlins and Kestrels when, more often than not, they were quite happy to join forces with gangs of local Gulls, Jackdaws, Magpies, Carrion Crows and even the odd Raven or two in order to see off their much-despised avian adversaries.
Looking a Bit Worn and Battered ....but strikingly noticeable nonetheless growing in a hedgerow, of all places, close to the inland village of Kuggar on the Lizard Peninsular in Cornwall.
Jaws I noticed this very hairy little fella on the 9th October, 2009 making his way quite happily along a dirt track on the Upton Ham, a massive (60 hectare) SSSI-designated site situated alongside the river close to Upton-upon-Severn. I've added it here simply because I've managed to get a good close-up shot of his teeth, ideally suited as they are for chewing vegetation. As for which species it is....there's a general rule of thumb maintaining that if a caterpillar is quite small and very hairy, then it's probably some kind of Fritillary-type Butterfly larvae, but if it's big and hairy, then it's probably a Tiger Moth of some sort or that of a Fox Moth. Fair enough, but that's no help if you're trying to tell a Bill Oddie from a Hagrid when they're a long way away!
Myxi Rabbit Tess discovered and quickly drew my attention to this very confused and fearful Rabbit. Completely blind and unable to scent, it was obviously in excruciating pain, but then, that's pretty much par for the course for any Rabbit suffering from myxomatosis. I decided, by the way, to spare you some of the potentially more upsetting shots that I took of the animal. It's face and genitalia were in the most awful state possible and I'm fully aware that at least a few children visit my websites from time to time.
To begin with, the disease normally becomes apparent through the sudden growth of pustulent lumps (myxomata), particularly around the face and ears, together with extreme puffiness around the head, eyes and genitals. It then rapidly progresses to a weeping, open sore form, greatly exacerbated by the animal scratching affected areas of its body and an acute conjunctival deterioration of the eyes leading to total blindness (as in the case above).
Meanwhile. the animal quickly becomes listless, loses its appetite and develops an often severe fever. Secondary bacterial infections occur in most cases, often causing pneumonia and purulent inflammation of the lungs. In typical cases, where the rabbit has absolutely no resistance, death may take place within as little as forty-eight hours, though more usually, the animal will take closer to fourteen days to suffer what is basically, one of the most painful and distressing deaths in the animal kingdom.
I was barely six years old by the time myxomatosis had killed more than 90% of Rabbits in this country (having spread to the UK from France two years previously back in the summer of 1953) and one of the first things I remember about my new family was how my Uncle Chris, the gamekeeper, found the whole situation so upsetting (he wasn't a bit like most of the modern gamekeepers). Virtually nothing was known about the disease back then and he absolutely deplored the awful extended suffering experienced by so many Rabbits. In fact, it became an almost full-time obsession with him to seek them out and put them out of their misery.
Naturally, I couldn't leave this one to suffer either and so I despatched it quickly and humanely. However, there were elements with regard to the suffering of this particular animal which I found slightly suspicious and so Tess and I walked the four or five miles back to the vehicle and then returned as close as possible by road in order to tag and bag the animal prior to sending it off for post mortem. It's in a special freezer right now that I have in the garage exactly for such purposes and I'll get the Rabbit sent off on Monday.
Sadly, there are still a number of unscrupulous individuals out there who are prepared to deliberately introduce the disease (usually by inoculation) onto their land in an effort to control wayward Rabbit populations, but, apart from the sheer cruelty implicit in such an act, and as Nature is always about balance and connections, there are nearly always hugely negative knock-on effects associated with anything that man attempts to do out of sheer, bloody-minded ignorance as the now almost total myxomatosis-related decline of the Spanish Lynx in Europe bears testament.
Myxi Rabbit Had it not been for Tess sniffing out this desperately poorly individual, I would never have noticed it lying so completely still in the undergrowth just a couple of metres from where I was standing and it would probably have continued to suffer in terrible agony for several more days before finally succumbing to its illness.
Crackington Small Copper ....and they seem to be getting younger and younger.
Southern Hawker (A Female I Think) A big, bold and beautiful beast of a bug, the Southern Hawker is presumably so-called due to the fact that it can be found just about anywhere from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Arctic Circle (so you work it out). Anyway, I saw this one (about the length of my middle finger) "resting" in a hedgerow half-way to the top of St Agnes Beacon and managed (I don't quite know how) to get close enough to get a few shots without it sensing I was there and flying off. Typical of Hawkers, the Southern variety are extremely strong fliers and are prepared to travel far and wide, mostly, I believe, because they are genuinely nosey creatures who simply like to know what's round the next corner. I managed to photograph more than a hundred species of insect while I was in Cornwall this time around (late August, 2009) and I shall sort out a few of the more interesting ones as soon as I can to add to my websites. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I'm rubbish at insects in general, I can only identify just over two thirds of them which means I can definitely feel a phone-call to Nobby coming on.
Himalayan Balsam....Noli-Me-Tangere A fully naturalised plant of damper places becoming increasingly common along many a British water margin, this particular Balsam beauty was growing beside a small stream near Hereford.
Common Blue Here's a shot of a male Common Blue from my archives for comparison with the little male depicted in the two photographs below. You can make your own mind up as to whether they're the same species, but note the lack of orange at the trailing edges of the fore-wings of the two lower pictures compared to those of the one in the top image. I realize that a degree of variation does occur between individuals and that general wear and tear can smudge or even partially remove the colours, but rarely to that extent. Meanwhile, I do have old photos of many species of Blues, including Silver-Studded, Adonis and even a Cranberry or two, but they're stored away in a file on an external hard-drive that is, unfortunately, broken!
Above and Below....Common Blue or Silver-Studded Blue....or Neither? The fact is, I'm not entirely sure, but I reckon it's probably the former. However, there seem to be things about it that are right for both as well as things that are wrong. Anyway, I spotted it in one of the fields behind my house on the 10th August, 2009 while walking Tess, but was struck by the almost electric intensity of the blue bleeding from the upper-wing surfaces into the hair on the creature's body as well as part way across the under-wing surfaces.
Linseed ....or Flax as it tends to be called by the pharmaceutical companies, has been cultivated for thousands of years as an oil used to promote healthy hearts, but when you consider that it's also extremely good for the skin, hair and nails, it's understandable why so many seasoned vegetarians use it as a substitute for fish oil. In fact, Linseed is one of the richest non-fish sources of Omega 3 fatty acids available to the consumer. Amazingly, it has 50%Omega 3 by weight of alpha linoleic acid, which is converted by the body into EPA and DHA as required (I wish I knew what any of that actually meant)! Mind you, I do know that Flaxseed oil comes in a dark brown capsule from the health-food shop because it spoils very quickly and keeping it in the dark prevents the oxidation of the oil....So you see, I'm not completely thick!
As I've pointed out many, many....many times on my websites, I've been vegetarian since I was eleven years old (forty-nine years) and back in those days, not only was I considered to be a complete and utter freak by almost everyone and anyone, who caught wind of it (especially the school authorities concerning the demands of school dinners), but there was virtually nothing available anywhere by way of dietary information to help you to stay fit and healthy. Even my own parents were convinced that I was about to starve to death right before their eyes and their misguided assurances to me that I should at least eat fish because fish meat wasn't the same as "proper" meat fell on deaf ears.
More than a little worried, they turned to my herbalist Gran for help and advice and it was she who convinced me to partake of a dessert-spoon of Linseed/Flax oil every other day, insisting that I would otherwise soon begin to fade away, becoming pale and pasty-looking with increasingly dry skin and that even my hair could begin to fall out. She also maintained (quite forcibly) that my heart would suffer in the long-term and that the spoonfuls of oil would prevent that from happening.
Now, my Gran was an old-fashioned, traditional-type countrywoman very much steeped in the old ways. She had no time for modern things or towny ways and it's an absolute certainty that she would never have heard of Omega 3, linoleic oil or EPAs, so it always amazes me how rural community-based herbalists like her knew these things. Today's modern herbalists acquire all sorts of academic qualifications and usually Google most of what they need to know, but my Gran never had an academic qualification to her name. Nevertheless, she managed to accumulate in one lifetime, enough knowledge concerning all things herbally to keep a latter-day "expert" busy for at least two lifetimes just writing it all down!
Above and Below....Fun-Filled Little Fur-balls of Frolicking Infantness (Common Vole) I was just about to get in the shower when I heard my wife calling up the stairs, "My beloved....Come quickly! Come and see....Out on the patio....Bring your camera!"
Wondering what on earth it was she'd seen, I immediately snatched up her pink towelling, eight sizes too small dressing-gown and sought to put it on back-to-front like one of those "open all areas" proctologist's examination gowns....not simply you understand, for the reason I don't actually either possess a dressing-gown of my own or understand the rudimentary mechanics of wearing one, but more because it was the only thing to hand that went at least some way towards covering my otherwise shameful, full-frontal nudity! Then, with my rear still fully exposed to any and all passing sarcasm, I rushed downstairs, grabbing my camera as I ran.
"What? What is it?" I eventually managed to gasp between breaths. At the very least, I'd expected to be confronted by some overly opportunistic Sparrow-hawk perched atop the garden shed or perhaps another daylight visitation by "Old Stripy", one of the local Badgers or even the sight of a solitary Red Kite passing high above the house....but it was none of those. Instead, my wife, obviously delighted by whatever it was she could see, was pointing excitedly out of the kitchen window and down towards the concrete patio floor. "Look my handsome knight!" she said, "Pixie, Dixie and Trixie!".
....and there they were, three (in total) of the cutest little things you could possibly imagine romping all over the place and chasing each other's tails amongst the herb-filled plant pots right there on the patio!
Now, cute they may be for the moment, but I shall give them a week or so to learn to fend for themselves before eventually catching them and releasing them in some far-flung field miles away from human habitation.
This, of course, is a typical example of what having a wildlife-orientated garden is all about, and, at the very least, it's an indicator that, (a), things are more or less in balance within the confines of the garden and, (b), we have no significant rat problem in the wider vicinity at the moment.
Finally, for reasons of common public decency, I admit that there's one picture I shall most definitely NOT be adding to either of my websites because it's the one that my wife took (somewhat unkindly I thought) with my little point-and-shoot camera of me as I lay belly-down out on the patio in order to get these shots as close as possible while simultaneously doing my best impersonation of somewhere to park your bike!
Has anyone else, apart from me, noticed how often it is that my married life seems more akin to some kind of surreal situation comedy than to anything even remotely normal?
The Weeping Mallow
Heartsease Better known as the Field Pansy, this tiny inhabitant of both cultivated and waste land is traditionally recognized (along with the Wild Pansy) as a symbol of remembrance and its name is said to derive from the French word "pensee", meaning "thought". If possible, I like to leave either a Field or a Wild Pansy together with a wild Common Poppy on any wartime commemorative monument I happen across when I'm out and about, though if people see me doing it, they often ask about the significance of the Pansy. Interestingly, both Field and Wild Pansies are also associated with love....hence the more colloquial names of "Heartsease", "Love-in-Idleness" and "Kiss-Me-Quick" ascribed at times to one or the other and given to them no doubt by the hopelessly love-lorn in days gone by.
For Those Who Might Like to Know.... My wife had a multitude of tests last week to determine whether or not she's progressed at all since her intensive chemo session during her time in hospital last March/April. Well, it seems to be very good news so far and the medical team are extremely pleased with her, praising her positive attitude and sheer determination to overcome such a potentially devastating multiple myeloma. We're not out of the woods just yet however, but the tests have shown that, not only has her platelet count returned to normal, but her haemoglobin production is also as it should be once again and her neutraphils are practically in overdrive! Of course, I still insist that she has her daily dose of Manuka honey and she loves to come out for long walks in the countryside with Tess and me at least two or three times a week. Oh....and her hair is finally starting to grow back....albeit slightly more curly than before! I took the above picture yesterday (4th July, 2009), somewhere along my old boyhood stomping ground near Deerhurst close to the River Severn. It was sunny and warm and we walked a long way. We finished with a cream tea each in the pretty garden of a small cafe adjacent to the Saxon Odda's Chapel in Deerhurst. The cafe is run purely for the benefit of the bereaved children's charity "Winston's Wish" and provides the best cream tea in Gloucestershire....Believe me, I may not know much about anything in general, but I am an expert on cream teas!
Tess and Her Beloved Tennis Ball Taken in the back garden yesterday evening (29th June, 2009), Tess will be ten months old on the 1st July. She's lost most of her physical puppy characteristics now, but mentally and emotionally she's still very much a child....She's also one of the brightest dogs I've ever known and intelligence just shines out from those big, dark. doe-like eyes.
Skipper I'm not saying that Skippers are skittish little wotsits or anything, but getting a shot like this is probably almost as difficult as trying to photograph Lee Evans on amphetamines!
Skipper on Yellow Rattle Basically, It's Yellow Rattle with a feeding Skipper Butterfly.
Devonshire Swallows I have just returned from eight days working in beautiful South Devon (early June 2009) from my motor-home and I took my wife and Daughter with me to give them a bit of a break. The Swallow photo above is just one of hundreds of photos I took while I was there and I'll be uploading some of them (including a couple more Swallow shots) mostly to the "My Office" page over the next few days as I gradually manage to sort them out.
Fox Moth Caterpillar My Uncle Sid was a passionate lover of all things mechanical. He loved anything to do with the railways, owned several motor bikes and was one of the first people in our area to buy a motor car. As I've mentioned elsewhere, he was the one who famously drove his car on the ice covering the River Avon from Shakespeare's Boatyard to King John's Bridge during the really bad winter of 1963....with me in the front passenger seat! A deed that almost cost him his manhood when my Mum found out about it! His greatest love of all however, was the aeroplane and it was Uncle Sid who would occasionally take me in his car to the outskirts of various airfields (civilian and military) to just sit in the sunshine and watch aircraft of all shapes and sizes taking off and landing while we ate sandwiches and drank lemonade (at least mine was lemonade). He would take the time to explain all about them to me (the aircraft that is, not the sandwiches), identifying their various types and their probable destinations. It was also around this time (1960/1961) that I began to keep a written diary and one of my first entries was to describe the day he took me to an air-show up North and how he paid for both of us to have a ride in an old, 1930s passenger biplane. That plane was a deHavilland Fox Moth and I wrote the following passage about my very first experience of flying in my diary that very evening....
"Uncle Sid paid £2 10 6d (!!!) for us to go in a Fox Moth Biplane. We sat inside a small cabin at the front and the pilot sat outside behind us like he would in the Gypsy Moth that we looked at earlier. We flew around the airfield and over a river. The landing was a bit bumpy (and slightly worrying) and the noise of the engine was very loud. It was the best thing ever. I do think though that Uncle Sid is more of a boy than me sometimes!"
Fox Moth Caterpillar Tail-End
Green-Veined White Beryl didn't care what the other girls thought, she knew that her new do-it-yourself hair-trimming kit was going to save her a small fortune in hairdresser's bills.
Dunnock Chicks The Dunnocks have made their nest in the big fat fir tree beside the pond at the top of the garden this year and they now have the four chicks shown in the above picture. I was doing jobs quite close to the nest-site for most of the afternoon, such as mowing the lawn and planting stuff in and around the pond, but probably because I'm a familiar sight to them, the parents took no notice of me whatsoever. It was later, when I was absolutely certain that both adult birds were foraging for food scraps beneath the feeders at the front of the house, that I gently parted the branches of the tree and took this single photograph. The Great Tits meanwhile, have taken up residence for the third year in a row in the hollow roof space of the larger bird-table situated no more than three metres from the Dunnocks. I noticed that the female Great Tit (GTi) sat on the eggs the entire time I was out there while the male (GT) returned at regular intervals to both feed her and keep a watchful eye on me....and also on Tess who was in the garden with me throughout.
Here We Go Again The nesting season has begun in earnest and with three pairs of Blue Tits, GT and GTi the Great Tits, A Pair of Dunnocks and DT the Blackbird and his missus already nesting in my back garden (plus a pair of Mistle Thrushes sitting on eggs just beyond the back fence), there's an awful lot of frantic activity going on, especially when it comes to the Blackbirds who managed to fledge three youngsters yesterday and who are all currently scuttling about in the garden undergrowth or on the patio and making a great deal of noise! I took photos of two of them (above and below) earlier today (3rd May) and then avoided going out in the garden thereafter because the little feather-bags can't fly yet and keep following me about (probably hoping to be fed), but the last thing I need right now is two more semi-tame Blackbirds just like their father on my hands! Meanwhile, the next couple of days will be crucial for the youngsters....that is, until they can make themselves airborne to get away from the local cat population, some of whom (and one in particular) target my garden as soon as the bird breeding season gets underway By the way, there's another, slightly closer shot of the little guy shown below on the "Garden" page.
Crane-Fly I'm confused about this specimen. I photographed it yesterday (20th April) alongside a disused canal and immediately took it for an oleracea fresh out of hibernation, but now I wonder if it's actually a paludosa (such is the excitement in my life). Anyway, it turned out to be an interesting day insect-wise because I also saw my first Mayfly of the year and what looked like a female fusca (though it was my wife who spotted the latter no more than two minutes after I'd said I'd not seen any Damselflies thus far in 2009). Earlier in the day, she also drew my attention to one of the largest Queen Common Wasps I've ever seen. It was getting very frustrated (and therefore aggressive) while trying to escape beyond the living-room window. I managed to take a few tentative photos of it before opening the window to help it on its way and have now put one of them on the "Blue and Purple" page of the .com site.
Wild Cuckoo Flower....AKA Lady's Smock....AKA Milkmaid I've talked about Cuckoo Flower in depth elsewhere, so I've nothing to add really, except that 2009 is turning out to be a particularly good year for this pretty little member of the Cabbage family.
Spring Sunset Across the River Severn
One Man and His Dog That Thinks it's a Parrot Dishevelled, dejected and forlorn after two full days spent indoors doing the seemingly huge amount if paperwork associated with all the Spring walks I’ve been doing lately, as well as sorting out and editing the hundreds of photographs I’ve taken and struggling to decipher the reams of notes I make along the way.
I do as much as I can each day as I go, but there’s much more to observe, photograph and record these days than there ever used to be and that’s mostly down to the advent of digital photography. Anyway, it all has to be sorted out and turned into something at least half-way comprehensible and legible for other people to use.
Meanwhile, Tess likes to spend her day perched on my shoulder like some sort of wingless, beakless behemoth parrot. She’s also happy to stay there for as long as I remain seated and I must admit, my wife has occasionally walked into the room to find us both fast asleep because, although I sleep very little through the night, the moment I’m confronted with paperwork, I tend to doze off almost immediately...I guess that very little has changed since I was at school fifty years ago!
Never mind though, we’re off out on another long walk tomorrow and another the day after....and then another....and another as well I think before I'll have to devote another day to paperwork, but since we (rangers) all have to do exactly the same sort of walk in similar habitats right across the UK on the same day each time, it can get a little bit complicated to administer logistically.
Tess Portrait You've either got it or you ain't.
With Lolling Tongue.... The title is taken from a three-verse poem written by my Mum about another dog of mine called "Chloe". Chloe (pictured below) was a big part of my life during the 1980s and 1990s and was very much an outdoors-type "adventure" dog. She died of a tumour in 1994.
Tess is so like Chloe in her ways that I find it slightly unsettling at times.
Chloe (or Possibly Tess)
With lolling tongue and flapping ears There’s nothing in the world she fears Adventure fills her heart with zest and rarely lets her feel at rest
A tough and very hardy soul She’ll take on any action role And come foul wind or rain or hail She’ll bark defiance at that gale
A dog for all the seasons she A soaring spirit flying free Yet, doubtless she will always be Devoted to my son
(By Daisy W,1990)
Chloe A rather fuzzy digital SLR photograph of an old print of Chloe (aka Chlo-bags) taken somewhere in the Lake District circa 1987. I'll dig out a much better effort sometime, as I do have more than a hundred forty-page albums, each crammed full with my old photos....and I'm not even beginning to count the thousands of slides I have stored away in various boxes, many of which I took at folk gigs and rock concerts or while I was in the military.
A slightly spooky thing where Chloe and Tess are concerned....My wife has reminded me today that when we got Chloe as a very young puppy, she had a sister who went to a couple that we knew at the time....and they chose to call their puppy "Tess"!
Chloe Circa 1986 This is a better image than the one above, but I'll keep that there anyway. I think I've already put this on the other site somewhere. It was taken on the Scottish Isle of Jura.
Early Springsign I I know that there are a lot of you out there who are totally fed up with Winter and can't wait for Spring. I also know that many of you don't or can't get out and about as much as you'd like to either, so above and opposite are a handful of pictures to prove to you that, although still quite early in the year, things really are beginning to stir in the woodlands and the hedgerows and that, before you know it, the sun will be shining in bright blue skies and there'll be green leaves on the trees once more!
First of 2009 This rather shabby-looking and frayed around the edges Peacock is the very first butterfly that I've seen so far in 2009. In fact, I saw it on the 21st February, two days ahead of my previous earliest sighting of 23rd February in 2008. The very first Butterflies to be seen in the year are nearly always the hibernators and, having "slept" through the Winter, they emerge in early Spring, usually at the first hint of a warmer, sunny day. I would guess that this particular specimen had emerged just minutes before as its flight and general movements were still very erratic and sluggish. Peacocks are among the most likely to be seen in early Spring (though more usually in March) along with other hibernators, including some of last year's Red Admirals and the odd Brimstone or two.
Long-Tailed Tit (Bumbarrel) I had a little time to spare today, so I placed a folding seat less than two metres away from the bird feeders at the front of the house, threw some camo scrim over my head and shoulders and waited to see what would show up (apart from the police that is)!
I did this because I’ve been disappointed with the results of my hurried efforts to photograph the Long-Tailed Tits and the Goldcrest this week. The former are frequent visitors to the feeders while the latter is very a rare guest and only feels forced to use the feeders this time around because of the atrocious weather we’ve been having over the past few days. Both species are extremely quick-moving little busy-bodies as they dart about all over the place, (almost bordering on the frantic) and this makes them very difficult to photograph at the best of times!
Well, I suppose I did a little better this time around (after all, they were barely more than a metre away from me), but I’m still not entirely happy! Goldcrest Together with it's scarcer cousin, the Firecrest, the Goldcrest is the UK's smallest species of bird. Barely three inches from the tip of it's beak to the tip of it's tail, it can usually be heard or sometimes seen in the tops of the tallest trees in coniferous or mixed woodlands.
They occasionally visit the fir trees in my back garden, but it takes extreme weather like that we've been having over the past few days to make them use the feeders.
They are also very quick and agile and I had to be equally quick to get this shot with just my Ricoh pointy-shooty camera! There's another shot of this tiny bird on the "Garden" page.
Two of the Three Ladies in my Life The next month or so is going to be very difficult for us. My wife must go into hospital next week for two or possibly three stem-cell harvest procedures, each of which will take approximately five hours as all of her blood is passed through a "harvesting" machine until enough stem cells have been gathered in a separate container and then taken to be frozen.
A week later she has to go into hospital for at least a month where all the remaining stem cells in her bone marrow will be zapped by a very high dose of intensive chemotherapy. Once that's done, the previously harvested stem cells will be re-introduced to her blood steam and, hopefully, will go on to kick-start the manufacture of new and healthy stem cells, without which she will have virtually no immune system whereby even contracting a common cold could have devastating effects!
Although I feel positive, I'm not going to say I'm not worried because I'm actually terrified! My wife on the other hand, is far more laid back about it and remains totally upbeat and positive at all times! I don't know how she does it. She simply refuses to give in to it!
Oh well, she'll be in hospital for a month and even my Daughter will be on a school art trip to Barcelona for a week of it. I guess I'm just going to have to learn the difference between the washing machine and the dishwasher after all!
As you can see from the above picture, Tess is certainly growing, but my wife is also shrinking! She's lost just over two inches in height as a result of her illness and especially through the collapse of several of her vertebrae which were reinforced recently with a couple of kilos of Blue Circle cement and half a Meccano set!
She never stops smiling though and keeps insisting on accompanying me on many of my walks, some of which are quite arduous and long! A Wild Welcome Awaits!
Rime-Frosted Tree Trunk I think this has a kind of Middle-Earth quality to it and is the first photo I've taken so far in 2009 that I like and for that reason.
Scraps the One-Legged Chaffinch....Update As the photo shows, Scraps seems to be glowing with health and vitality at the moment and during the summer of 2007 I was amazed to see him with a mate at last and the happy pair managed to raise several young in a nest built just beyond my back fence! The fact that he survived at all is quite miraculous really, but I reckon his worst days are behind him now, but who's to say what emotional struggles he must yet overcome....His search for a mate and his failure to find one for so long may well have been harder to endure than anything physical he's been through to date. Who can guess what goes on in the mind of a Chaffinch? My guess is though, that "Scraps" will overcome whatever the great crap-hole of life will choose to dump on him and that he'll be around for a little while yet at least!
Waterhole This livestock watering place has probably been part of the local village resource system for hundreds of years.
A Touch of Frost We had two or three degrees of frost here in the UK last night and to listen to the news on the radio this morning, you'd think we were on the brink of a new Ice Age!
Winterlake Taken from virtually the same position as the "Summerlake" shot below.
Summerlake Taken from virtually the same position as the "Winterlake" shot above.
Poacher's Moon It's been a full Moon for the past few nights and a good opportunity therefore, to spend the wee small hours out in the fields and the woods keeping an eye on some of the Deer.
Armed gangs of city poachers tend to be more active when they can see what they're doing a bit better and it's nice not to have to depend on NVE when the Moon is illuminating the landscape as brightly as it's been doing this weekend.
I want to be with my wife and and helping her out during the day and Tess, the puppy, needs constant attention and training as well (remember, Tess starts life as a ranger's dog almost as soon as she's had the last of her shots), so I'm not able to get much daytime rangering done at the moment. The middle of the night therefore, is a good time to be doing something useful and I can at least be out there watching over a few of the local Deer who tend to be a bit more dippy than usual at this time of year!
My wife goes into hospital next week to undergo a new procedure that involves injecting several of the vertebrae in her spine with a cementing compound because the cancer has caused a kind of osteo-porotic condition resulting in seven of her vertebrae fracturing and one collapsing altogether! She's still mobile however, although in a fair degree of what she only describes as "a little bit of pain", but it's far from that and totally without respite....and she still insists on going for our walks (albeit slowly)! The amazing thing is, she never complains about it either and when a chap (who I've never liked particularly) from up the road stopped us the other day and immediately started going on and on about how he'd dislocated his shoulder and how painful it was and about how much sleep he was losing, I couldn't resist saying that "well, actually, my wife's spine is broken in eight places, but we're just off for a walk up the hill!"
Why is it that most men are such pathetic w*nkers when it comes to pain?
Oh, and when it comes to why we don't encourage armed police response units to help tackle the poacher problem...We all hate firearms of any description in the UKNR (probably because we've all seen first-hand exactly what they can do in the wrong or the right hands) and the last thing we need alongside us out in the dark, dark woods is a bunch of coppers with semi-automatic pistols tripping over stuff (and each other) and shooting themselves in the bleepin' foot....or. worse still, slotting one of us!
We've all seen the police training with firearms in the past and the old saying that "the simple act of WANTING to own a firearm is also the single most important reason for NOT being allowed to have one" was never more pertinent believe me!
Meanwhile, let the thicko poachers have the firearms....We've got cameras and brain cells on our side....and a Nobby!
Winter Wasp Her majesty here suddenly turned up in our living room today (14thNovember)! That's quite late in the year for a Wasp, but it's the fertilised females that survive the Autumn and hibernate through the Winter. Then they re-emerge in the early Spring to begin a new cycle of life.
Meanwhile, somewhere indoors like a nice dry attic or a garage or even behind a bookcase in your living-room will serve perfectly well as somewhere to bed down for the colder months! Incidentally, the brown "powder" caught in her hair is the pollen from Lily stamens....You know, the stuff that stains everything....especially the tip of your nose when you sniff a Lily flower and which then stays there all day because nobody can be bothered to tell you about it!
Hair of the Leaf
Winterlight Dark well before 1700hrs and the rain's been fairly persistent for days and days. I took my wife to a place I know today where the Starlings gather in their hundreds of thousands at this time of year (see picture more or less opposite).
At Least Try To Remember Them All!
I must have asked a dozen people at random the same question today...."Does the name Warrenpoint mean anything to you?"....and all but one person said "No mate, never 'eard of it" or "No, sorry, what's that then?". The one person who had heard the name before, asked me "Is that where all those soldiers were killed in Northern Ireland?". She was possibly in her late fifties or early sixties and probably the oldest person who I'd attempted to approach.
This all came about because I bumped into an old acquaintance/friend at the weekend (I'll call him Alan for the sake of having to call him something). He's usually homeless and I spotted him sitting on a bench in a big local shopping arcade simply because he was cold and hungry and quite damp and more than a little smelly ...He was also about to be moved on by a couple of typically heavy-handed security guys.
I walked over just as they began to lift Alan to his feet by his arms ready to march him back out into the rain.
Mmm....I have what the psychs call a "character reversion" when I see things like that. It's not a bad thing necessarily because for a little while, I'm a bit like my old self....I "revert" back to when I was much stronger mentally. Sadly, my old self would barely recognise what my new shadow-self has gradually become.
I approached them from behind and told them to let go of him, that he was with me and that I was taking him for a meal and a hot drink....I also said it in my old voice and was fully dressed in ranger uniform (not much I know, but almost any uniform can carry a resonance if you don't give people chance to think). They let Alan go and turned to face me, but it was my turn to take Alan by the arm and I led him away from security, up an escalator and into a small cafe where I bought him the meal and a brew.
I never give him money because he'll only spend it on booze....Alan is a chronic, long-term alcoholic, but I do always buy him something to eat and/or drink and I do always spend a little bit of time with him to talk about the old days.
I was part of a special contingent preparing for a unique tour in Japan the day the IRA killed sixteen Paratroopers and two Highlanders at Warrenpoint in Late August 1979 in a well planned and cleverly executed two-tier attack, but Alan was in a truck just a few yards behind the one that was blown to smitherines by a half-ton bomb concealed under a pile of hay on the back of a flat-bed lorry parked at the side of the road close to the border. The bomb was detonated as the first truck drove by and six Paras died instantly, several were horrifically injured!
Alan and his oppos from the two remaining trucks raced to secure a perimeter while coming under heavy small-arms fire. A helicopter was immediately deployed carrying Highlander reinforcements and, as it took off from the scene carrying several wounded soldiers barely twenty minutes after the first explosion, a second device was detonated that killed ten more Paras and the two Highlanders who had been taking cover in a nearby gatehouse!
Eventually the situation was brought under control only for the true cost to became horribly apparent. Alan was one of those who remained behind to help identify the remains of his former friends and colleagues, to gather the bits together and to shovel the mush into plastic bags!
Within hours his unit was back on patrol because the Government and the MoD were desperate not to show any kind of weakness in the face of what to all intents and purposes, had been a para-military triumph....and also because just a short while before and on the very same day, Lord Louis Mountbatten had been assassinated in London, also by the IRA!
Alan probably lost his way mentally that day and it's been a slippery slope for him ever since. He eventually left the Forces a few months later and returned to his family a changed man. He drank heavily, couldn't hold down any kind of a job, his wife divorced him and he ultimately found himself on the street. He hasn't actually seen his kids for more than twenty years!
These days Alan sleeps rough most nights and begs from shop doorways for loose change. Yet once he was a Para....one of the Military's very best....because that's what Paras are (even though obviously, it pains me to say it). He wore the Maroon with pride and honour back then, but now Alan gets moved on because he's an embarrassment to so-called "decent" people who work for a living and don't have time for wasters....and who have never heard of Warrenpoint!
In a two police officer "sting" operation conducted on a weekday at 0830hrs less than a month ago, Alan was targeted as a vagrant and arrested for begging on the street right here in the tranquil Cotswolds. He was gaoled and later had to appear in court where he was fined and bound over to "keep the peace". I had a word and my Boss paid his fine!
The cost of the two-man sting operation and the subsequent court appearance by the way, was estimated to be somewhere in the region of £1200. Alan had just 26p on him when he was arrested, which, of course, was confiscated!
There was a brief write-up about it in the local rag as well....The same local rag that did a big article in the same edition about the importance of remembering all our troops currently serving abroad....especially those in Iraq and Afghanistan!
Well, I'm certainly not going to argue with the importance of that, but I will say this....
There are hundreds of Alans out there on our streets....surviving somehow....as best they can. Former soldiers (young and old alike) who did their bit as readily and as bravely as any other for Queen and Country, but who are not remembered in real terms, even in November....The Alans of this world are the truly forgotten soldiers....forced to move on simply because they smell and look untidy or are arrested for being some kind of social embarrassment. Unfortunately for them, you can't see their wounds. There's nothing amiss with them physically to give at least some indication of what they've been through and so, more often than not, they simply fade away....much to the relief I'm sure, of decent folk everywhere!
I also believe that it's only right and proper to remember the families of people like Alan who were equally forced to suffer in their own particular way after their loved ones were finally returned to them. Loved ones who had suddenly become pale, unfathomable reflections of their former selves. Loved ones who, through no fault of their own,had been returned, but as completely changed individuals. It's no surprise therefore, that such men quickly became strangers in their own land so to speak. That they couldn't help but create an especially relentless kind of misery for those closest to them while inadvertently opening a yawning chasm of despair for their families to be pushed into by particularly spiteful, sharp-clawed demons infesting the nightmares constantly laying siege to their sanity!
So remember all those who are currently serving and all those who served in the past....but spare a thought as well for those who, like Alan, were changed irrevocably by their military experiences and who can't quite manage their lives as well as they used to any more....and spare a thought too, for the families of such soldiers who have suffered just as much, but in a very different and more insidious way!
Frampton Walk Another day, another walk and yet more photos. This time we headed out for Frampton-upon-Severn situated just off the A38 between Gloucester and Bristol. The day had begun cold and grey and the light had been poor. We walked around the lakes, across the fields and along the little lanes. We tramped our way through mud and thick carpets of fallen leaves in the beautiful and wildlife-rich woodlands that feature on the edges of Frampton village itself, with its massive village greens and we were mildly surprised when the skies suddenly turned blue and the sun came out with a vengeance!
The clocks went back today of course, which gave us an hour less daylight at the end of the afternoon, but the light itself eventually turned that autumnal orangy-gold colour synonymous with this time of year (late October) and lending itself a little more readily to photography....and crikey....I actually managed to take a photograph I like (above)! That's three in two weeks....A new record!
Frampton Ponds Situated just a couple of miles up the road from Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, the small group of lakes that comprise Frampton Ponds often play host to some very unusual migrating wildfowl species and can prove a most rewarding place for the dedicated Bird Nerd to spend the odd half a day or so during late Autumn or early Spring.
The Excellent Woods Around Frampton-upon-Severn
Autumn in Frampton
The Ageing Year
Russet and red Yellow and gold Colour the hills In a story told Of an ageing Year and a weakening Sun And a winter that's poised For the starter's gun
From the "Ageing Year" by Daisy W (my Mum), Autumn 1944
Sunlight Through Maple Leaves I took my wife to see the Autumn colours at the National Arboretum at Westonbirt near Tetbury today (11th October). I've uploaded a couple of the photos here on the "Home" page and I shall be adding more on the "Forest and Woodland" page over the next few days, but my computer is being very naughty at the moment and has to go in for repairs, so I'm dependent upon using my Daughter's when she's not using it herself.
Tree Silhouette I was able to get out today and get some work done while my wife spent most of the day with her Mum. I also needed to walk off a few sleepless nights, so I yomped about twenty-four miles as the crow flies and blew away some cobwebs. It was a nice sunny day too and the air was fresh and crisp.
To Be Identified.... For a moment I thought this might be the ultra-scarce Rattle Grasshopper when I first noticed it on my patio steps after I'd just finished mowing the lawn. Then I thought it might actually be one of the three British Ground-hoppers, but now I've had a good look at it enlarged as a photograph, I'm not sure what it is!
Campanula "Camp" as in "bell" I guess (campanology etc) and, judging by the look of these bell-shaped flowers, I should imagine that they're a fairly close relative of the European Bellflower, a pretty blue wildflower found locally across the South and South-West of the UK and pictured elsewhere on my websites I think. I've put another shot of this flower on the "Garden" page.
Hawthorn Shield Bug A fine looking specimen from a family of insects that some people like to call Stink Bugs simply because many of the species included within it have the ability to emit a very pungent odour when disturbed. I was quite lucky to spot this individual because Hawthorn Shield Bugs are not particularly common and are quite well camouflaged.
Echinacea Purpurea "Kim's Knee-High"
Summer....Ending As It Began! I must admit, the sun made its usual valiant effort this morning to fight its way through the lowering clouds, but to no avail! Meanwhile, with more and more rain continuing to fall right across the entire South of the country and Wales having to take the brunt of it, the Boss decided to put us on a precautionary "orange alert" (well, more of a subdued tangerine really with maybe a hint of cerise) so that we're all prepared to seek out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go, looking for the places only they would know....and give them a helping hand with a few basic supplies or even relocation if they need it!
Mind you, things have to get pretty desperate for the UK's incumbent Emergency Services to need our help, after all, they are the best in the world at this kind of thing, but you never know....It's just that we like to do things our way and above all, avoid the media because of all the other stuff we do during the rest of the year from a wildlife perspective, but that ain't always easy at times like this!
Nevertheless, during the last twenty-four hours, many roads in Wales have become impassable, rivers have burst their banks, hillsides are subsiding and many homes have been flooded....and now much of that water is making its way via a complex network of river systems right towards the Severn and its surrounding flood plain. In fact, we don't actually have to go to IT....it's coming right towards US, even as I type this! Plus more severe weather warnings were issued for both the North of Wales and the North Of England earlier today (6th September) and that may well result in more water arriving from the Midlands!
Our advice to home owners throughout Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Somerset who found themselves flooded-out last summer, would be to move as many of your possessions upstairs as possible (if you have an upstairs that is) or that you take your most treasured and/or valuable items round to a friend's house where they'll be safe. It might also be a good idea for you to store some extra drinking-water in containers upstairs (fill the bath, etc) and it might be a wise move to nip down the shops to buy extra tins of beans, spaghetti, soup, etc plus a few packets of biscuits and some cartons of UHT milk....or anything else you think might be useful in an emergency, such as matches, candles, wind-up torches and a little camping-gaz stove and put those upstairs as well.
I went on about this last year and I know that a few people I've spoken to in the Tewkesbury area have been buying a few extra tins of this and that and storing bottled water for months as a basic precaution. After all, the last thing you want if you're fully preoccupied with the struggle to keep flood-water from entering your home, is to be worrying about how you're going to feed your family!
Alarmist? Not really....just common-sense precautionary stuff! Ask any of the hundreds of families in Gloucestershire alone who lost everything they had in last summer's floods (some of them incidentally, are still waiting for the insurance companies to pay up) if they think I'm being alarmist. I can tell you for nothing that many of them are worried sick at the moment! I was born and raised in and around Tewkesbury and I know a lot of those people personally and if I'm in a position to help any of them , then I will and so will the Boss!
Larinioides Cornutus ....or "Larry" to his mates.
Male Common Earwig Interesting fact about the nocturnal Common Earwig....The front pair of wings have evolved as toughened protective coverings for the fan-shaped hind pair.
Red Admiral I put a photo of a Red Admiral on the "Home" page of www.wildliferanger.co.uk perched on an old dead log. I uploaded it to show how well camouflaged they are against such a background when their wings are closed and I've done the same with this picture....except it's to show how equally camouflaged they are against foliage as well.
Rhingia Campestris A fly with what appears to be an articulating, Pelican beak, membrane-like proboscis...Well, It turns out to be another kind of Hover Fly, one that prefers to lay its eggs in cow dung where they hatch into larval form and remain until finally emerging as adult flies. There's another photo of it on the "Garden" page.
Long-John "Hoppy" the Hedgehog....Update.... Permanent resident in my garden for a few years now, Long-John the Hedgehog lost an eye and a hind leg to a Fox about five summers ago when it rolled him into a neighbour's pond to force him to open up and then tried to eat him! The neighbour saw what was happening and ran out to rescue him. I spent a few weeks getting him better and now he never wanders from my garden and lives in the log-pile where he also hibernates in the winter (the Hedgehog that is, not the neighbour). I put out dog-food and mealworms for him three or four evenings a week and he manages to find enough to eat by himself the rest of the time.
My Daughter and I have created a wildlife pond of our own in the garden this summer and I've made certain that there's an adequate ramp for Long-John to be able to haul himself out after falling in...which he will inevitably manage to do!
Cylindrical"Round" Straw Bales I was interested to learn recently that, not only are the older-style, cuboid-shaped straw bales becoming more and more popular in the construction industry these days due to their obvious environmental advantages and their highly effective insulation properties, but that they also happen to be surprisingly fire-resistant as well. In fact, they score way beyond current fire safety regulation requirements....though I’m not so sure I’d want to put it to the test somehow!
Kune Kune Ok, I admit, I don't know an awful lot about different breeds of pigs and I may have identified this one incorrectly, but I'm pretty sure that this is a Kune Kune (pronounced "Koony Koony") and that the breed hails from New Zealand, where it's had a long association with the Maori people. It's also a breed that came very close to extinction back in the early 1970s, but is fairing much better now. I believe that there's even a British Kune Kune Preservation Society who have helped enormously to return this wonderfully good-natured animal from the brink of oblivion....I've put another shot of this highly intelligent animal on the "Mountains, Moorlands and Farmlands" page.
It's Just a Fly....but Amazing Nonetheless
Crab Spider Looks like a variation on Xysticus cristatus. It's unusual in that it has no venom, preferring to immobilise its prey using its ultra-fine silk.
No Common Name I know exactly what you're thinking, this must surely be a female Dexia rustica....It would certainly be about the right size plus they're not exactly scarce....So why don't they have a common name? Well, I could give them a common name on your behalf if you like....Mmm....If it is what you say it is, then its larvae are known to prey on the grubs of the enormous Cockchafer Beetle, Mmm....on second thoughts, perhaps I'd better not!
Common Toad In his many books, papers and dissertations on "Effective Camouflage Techniques for the Military", UK National Ranger, bug expert and former Royal Marine, Nobby, has frequently turned to the Natural World for reference and guidance....Insects, Reptiles, Amphibians and Mammals in particular have been a constant source of inspiration to him and provided him with countless avenues of research and study....but it's when I compare images in my mind of Nobby's camo-painted face with that of the young Bufo bufo above that I realize just how significant certain aspects of the Natural World have actually been to him!
Lichen....as Good as it Gets! The air quality in Cornwall is as good as anywhere in the UK (a great deal better in fact, than most places)....and that's why it's so easy to find such stunningly healthy examples of clean air-loving Lichens growing on every other rock, wall, tree trunk or branch right across the county. I took lots of Lichen photographs while I was in Cornwall this time around (July/August 2008) and I'll upload a couple more of them when I do a write-up over the next few days.
"Tony"...or Possibly "Toni " While Two-Tone the Blackbird was struggling so hard a few weeks back, (apparently all by himself) to feed his newly fledged family, it appears that Mrs Two-Tone wasn't dead after all, but fully preoccupied with sitting on her next clutch of eggs. That's an unusual degree of overlap (even for Blackbirds), to the extent that I was convinced at the time that something untoward had befallen her! However, it turns out that she was fine and dandy the whole time, but completely unable to help the exhausted Two-Tone feed the voracious and relentlessly demanding fledglings from their first brood....Not to mention the fact that he was probably working hard to feed her a lot of the time as well! Oh well, I guess it just goes to show how devoted parent Blackbirds actually are to each other and to their young.
Meanwhile, the young Blackbird in the photograph above is the only one from the second brood still insisting upon trailing around after its father the whole day and demanding constantly to be fed. I've decided to call it "Tony"....or possibly "Toni" if it turns out to be a female.
Pinkology The science of Pink.
Meadow Brown on Creeping Thistle I get some very strange looks from passers-by when they spot me lying on my back amongst the thistles in order to get a shot like this.
Meadow Grasshopper Grasshoppers and Crickets can be very confusing to identify, if only because they can vary from bright green to dark brown within the same species, while some individuals (though by no means all) may have brightly coloured patterns along their bodies. I'm assuming that this is a Meadow Grasshopper because long ago, I was taught that this species lacks hind-wings, making the fore-wings appear much shorter overall compared to others.
Probably One of the UK's Myriad Species of Tiny Hover Fly ....On the other hand, the metal alloy face-plate and thorax body-armour does tend to give it away as an alien spy-bot! Mmm....hang on a minute though, I think that idea might have come from a sci-fi short-story I wrote way back in the mid-1960s, based on an identical bug that I'd examined through a school microscope!
Meadow Crane's-Bill Several people have now stopped and asked me to identify the swathes of medium-sized blue flowers (above) that feature so noticeably along almost every roadside verge this summer (2008), particularly in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset. They're certainly very abundant, as are Field Scabious, Greater Knapweed, Rosebay Willowherb and a host of others. Not so many wild Poppies around at the moment it seems however.
Mating Blue-Tailed Damselflies There's another shot of this amorous pair on the "Water Margins" page.
A Chicken "What do you mean....'A Chicken'! If you must know, I happen to be a Fenning Sussex!"
Giant Poppy If there's one thing that you can practically guarantee every single year, it's that the moment the Giant Poppies decide to burst into flower in the back garden, it will totally **** down with rain and, before you know it, all the petals will get knocked off!!
Giant Tortoise ....Don't even ask!
Nuttella...New Kid on the Suet-Block This is Tubby-the-Nutter's brand-new little girl who my own daughter has decided to name "Nuttella". She's just like her Dad when it comes to stealing and eating everything and anything put out for the birds in the garden....and Nuttella's just as bad! .
Young Hare Another perfect example of why you should always have a camera of some sort on your person at all times....This character suddenly appeared out of nowhere, walked right past me as bold as you like and then settled down in a flower bed to munch on a few plant stems less than five metres from me....Although completely wild and unconfined, she didn't show the least concern when I crept to within just a couple of metres of her to get this photograph! There're another couple of pictures of her on the "Mountain, Moorland and Farmland" page.
Moorhen Amidst the Red-Hot Pokers
Soon to Emerge It wont be long before the seven Blue Tit chicks in this nest-box at the top of my garden will want to come out into the big wide world (any minute now in fact). Unfortunately, the Jackdaws are all too aware of this as well and are constantly hanging around up in the trees nearby. One or two of them have even tried sticking their heads into the hole to get a better look! They are very persistent and there can be up to a dozen or more of them just waiting for the moment the first chick ventures forth....like some sort of macabre feathery snack from a canteen vending machine!
In an effort to thwart Lord Jack, the Alpha male, and his motley crew, I've been finding plenty to do in the garden....including sitting out there in the sunshine with the laptop to add a few odds and ends to my websites. I've also allowed the dog outside as much as he wants and my daughter has been doing some GCSE reviision out there as well
All in all, between us, we've managed to keep the Jackdaws at bay....and the Magpies and Squirrels too, because they're not to be trusted either!
Once the chicks have fledged and have found their bearings, they'll have a better chance, but I've seen it all too often before, small birds such as Blue Tits are just picked off one at a time....sometimes before they've even fully emerged from the exit hole!
Rose in the Rain
German Wasp Big, generally aggressive and with a tendency to attack stuff without so much as a by-your-leave, this very large hunter/invader from the Continent tends to both dwarf and bully our more happy-go-lucky little home-grown versions! The one in the photograph landed on my hand this afternoon while I was completely minding my own business, but unfortunately, it flew up into the air just as I was trying to manoeuvre my camera into position with my other hand to get an interesting shot of it! I needn't have worried however, because it had apparently only been using my hand momentarily as a launch-pad from which to ambush what looked like a Snipe Fly in mid flight! Then, having caught its victim, the Wasp proceeded to use its incredibly powerful jaws to literally tear the Fly to pieces before flying off, probably all the way back to the nest, with the juicier bits held firmly between its feet!
Yellow Rattle Five decades ago this parasitic member of the Figwort family was far more prolific than it is today and I always made sure way back in the 1950s that there was a box-full or two of Yellow Rattle fruit capsules containing the plant's seeds on the classroom nature-table because of the sound-effects you could make by shaking them! In fact, the country name for the plant used to be "Rattle-Box" (something almost completely forgotten these days it seems), while in certain Southern counties of the UK, the "rattle" was taken as a sign for the start of hay-making....hence the plant's name of "Hay-Shackle" in places like Somerset. Like its cousin, Red Rattle, Yellow Rattle is a hemi-parasite and survives by attaching itself to the root systems of various grasses in order to extract water and minerals, while the similarity of the tubular shape formed by the petals to a witch's hooked nose actually gave rise to the first part of its scientific name of Rhinanthus minor, meaning 'nose' and 'flower'.
Lewis Lewis (above and below) arrived in my garden today....lost, disorientated, hungry and very, very thirsty. Lewis is a Racing Pigeon! Probably attracted by the grain trough, this weary F1 avian speed-machine must have been released in a race either earlier today (Sunday) or sometime yesterday. etting lost isn't an unusual thing for a Racing Pigeon and anyone might look out onto their garden one day and see such a bird sitting placidly on the lawn or pecking ineffectually at seed on the bird table. It might be in almost any condition physically, though it will most likely be close to total exhaustion. This will leave it confused and dehydrated meaning that it may well need your help to recover enough to continue on its journey. Lewis was obviously very tired and, after noticing the temporary rubber ring on one leg indicating he was currently taking part in a race, I picked him up and recorded the unique number displayed on the permanent metal ring on his other leg. This revealed him to be a four year-old bird of British origin. Physically, he was in good health, but I added glucose to a small bowl of water which he then drank enthusiastically. In view of the fact he didn't appear to be either ill or injured, I provided him with a mixture of groats, chicken-corn and honey on the covered bird-table where he now appears to have taken up temporary residence! I wont cage him or constrain him in any way. He'll probably hang around for a day or two and leave of his own accord when he's feeling better. Had he been injured or if he's still around three days from now, I'll catch him (he's very tame) and notify the Royal Pigeon Racing Association that he's here. Racing Pigeons can be quite valuable, while some can be worth thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds. I could tell that Lewis was good specimen....sleek, strong and in the prime of his racing career so his owner might be quite pleased to get him back. Oddly,he doesn't have the usual stamped number on his wing that would identify the name of the actual club to which his owner belongs, but I dare-say that by tomorrow he will have recovered sufficiently to re-orientate himself and make his own way home! As I expected, Lewis disappeared the following day....but he was back again the day after....and the day after that....and now he's a regular to the bird-table and even happy to eat grain from my hand....I guess he's decided to adopt me! Mmm....He obviously knows which side his bread is buttered on, but I would love to know what goes on inside their little minds....Is he genuinely lost and simply making the most of an otherwise bad situation or has he made a desperate bid for freedom? I don't suppose we'll ever know what it is that makes birds like Lewis turn feral....probably any one of a number of things, depending on the bird, but you only have to count the number of Pigeons hanging around your local town centre and which are still wearing leg rings, to realize just how many of them do actually go AWOL!
"Skinwing" Earwigs have always been lovers of damp and dark places, but some individuals can be extremely inquisitive....so much so that some people who notice these things (usually those without any kind of significant social life....including me) believe that they have quite well-developed individual personalities. This one was quite obviously enjoying a few minutes relaxation in the warm Spring sunshine and refused to employ the characteristically defensive Earwig ploy of dropping from wherever they might happen to be down to the ground when disturbed and then scrambling as fast as they can into the nearest crack or crevice. Nobby (another UKN Ranger and notable bug expert), has also noticed an increasing tendency amongst Earwigs generally in recent years to remain exposed when caught napping in the sunshine....but he doesn't know why! Another subtle climate-change anomaly perhaps? There are literally hundreds of such things taking place of late!
Portland Spurge Most easily distinguishable from its close relative the Sea Spurge by its red-tinted "flowers", the Portland Spurge confines itself to the Western and South-Western coastline of England and Wales or the Eastern coast of Northern Ireland and Eire.
Rock Pipit....on a Rock What can I come up with that's interesting about Rock Pipits? Well....er....for a start, I'd like to be able to say that in order to get this particular photograph, I was forced to scramble across extremely jagged andhighly dangerous rocky out-croppings and gullies for at least three or four hours just to catch the briefest glimpse of such a normally shy and reclusive character....However, the truth is, I had to practically fight this little blighter off with a big stick just to keep him from stealing my beloved ginger cake while I was sitting down out of the wind to eat my lunch! Mmm, they don't ever mention things like that in the text books do they!?!
St Agnes Sunset
Robin Chicks....Day Five You'll probably be pleased to know that all three Robin youngsters are doing really well, but if you look very carefully at the left-hand side of the picture, I think it's just possible to make out a fourth chick! I'm not absolutely certain, but I am about 90% sure. I think I'll call this one "Reliant"!
Meanwhile, first thing this morning....
"So, how's the family then?" I felt a hand on my elbow as I waited patiently in the queue at the village post-office.
I half turned to put a face to the voice "Um? Oh, hi Mrs G....They're all fine thank-you....My son's still at university and absolutely loves life in the big city, my daughter's doing her GCSE exams this Summer....she's fifteen.....and my wife's still got a bad back, but couldn't wait to get back to work....to get away from me I guess! Heh heh heh!" I chuckled at my own so-called self-deprecation, expecting Mrs G (from just across the road), to laugh as well....if only out of sympathy!
Mrs G however, just stared at me blankly "That's nice dear, but actually, I meant the Robins....How are the Robins?
"Uh? Oh....yes, of course....the ROBINS! Well....er, they're fine....Couldn't be better....Except I think there are four of them now....babies that is! I managed to overlook one somehow.
"Four? That's wonderful! You must be very proud!"
"Er....Yes....Yes, I am"
"What 'ave you got to be proud about all of a sudden then?" Mrs R, the cashier, looked at me quizzically through the bomb-proof glass from the other side of the counter. It was my turn to be served all of a sudden. "Is there something you're not telling us then?" Mrs R is Welsh!
"No....I've just got some Robins nesting behind my Buddlea is all"
"Oh you poor thing....Sounds very nasty! Robins you say....Are you taking anything for it at all? I do believe my Stan has still got some ointment left over from when he had his little problem two or three years ago....an' I reckon Dorothy over there will be happy to help you apply it if you like"
Dorothy had just been served ahead of me....her TV license stamps I think it was. Mrs R meanwhile, was on a roll...."Dorothy....DOROTHY....I said you're good with your hands....Poor love, it's deaf as a post she is....what with her tinnitus an' being eighty-seven an' all!"
I swear I could hear Mrs G tittering behind me....Mr K from down the farm up the lane looked across from the sorry excuse for a parcel he'd been wrapping since before I'd come in...."I think I still got a barrel of that stuff I used on't pigs once....you're mor'an welcome tert if ee like"
"Thank-you Mr K....Pigs you say?" I tried to salvage some small vestige of my increasingly battered dignity by pretending to carry on as though I'd only just walked in the door...."Twelve first-class stamps if you please Mrs R!"
"Sending a letter then are we dear? Would it be to anyone we know at all? Some kind of a Buddlea specialist perhaps?"
"Er....no, there's nothing wrong with my Buddlea (more titters)! I'm off to Cornwall again later this week and, as you know perfectly well, I like to send a few postcards home to my daughter while I'm away".
"Ah, right you are then dear....will you be wanting your usual bar of chocolate at all?" I struggled to find the hidden euphemism, but I actually suspect that Mrs R just wanted to know if I would like to buy a bar of chocolate! Life at your local rural post office can be very confusing at times, but I'll certainly miss the place if the bl**dy Government finally has its way and gets rid of them all!
The New Arrivals....Day Two Stroppy Madam and Uppity Bill Robin are happy to announce the safe arrival on Friday, 18th April of their three beautiful triplets....Rhianan, Ricky and Randy. Both Mum and babies are doing well and ask if donations could be made to the hospital's maternity ward in lieu of flowers. Thank-you.
On a more serious note....please bear in mind that, although both parents know me well and are even prepared to feed from my hand, when it comes to their nest-site, I stay well away! I took this picture from the other side of the garden with a digi-scoped camera so as not to disturb either the chicks or the parents!
If you have Robins nesting in your own garden already, then it's worth remembering that, for the most part, they'll be quite happy to put up with you hanging out the washing, doing a bit of gardening and even mowing the lawn, etc, but they wont like it if you start sticking your big red spotty nose in where it doesn't belong....something that might easily cause them to desert the nest altogether!
When my Boss was a CO, he once inadvertently made himself an instant local celebrity by being identified as the man who, although more than happy to push and push and push the poor sods under his command until they literally dropped, decided to cordon off (by actually posting sentries) an entire section of the base, thus rendering most of the vehicle repair shop, five of the vehicles in it and an equipment storage shed completely out of bounds for more than a month....Why? For the simple reason that a pair of Redstarts (relatives of the Robin) had decided to nest under the open bonnet of a Land Rover! Meanwhile, the poor old mechanics had to carry on working of course, but outside in the wind and the rain (of which there is a great deal on the East coast of Scotland)!
Mmm....It's amazing really, just how much respect he actually earned from a great many big, ugly, foul-mouthed Marines because of it....not to mention the local civilian population! Mind you, no-one ever left a vehicle bonnet open and unsupervised during the Spring or Summer again! I wrote in my diary at the time about how the entire situation reminded me of an episode from "Sergeant Bilko"! Forget about protecting Faslane and the Polaris nuclear subs or the North Sea Oil rigs....I remember how more than 100 fully-armed, extremely tough and very highly-trained Commachio Coy Royal Marines were suddenly prepared to do whatever it took to ensure the safety of those bl**dy birds and their four chicks and to Hell with the rest! All of the chicks fledged by the way and things soon returned to normal!
Anyway, I digress yet again....Please bear in mind that "suitable" food for very young early-birds is not exactly abundant right now and that the current batch of unusually early-nesting species, such as Robins, Blue Tits and Dunnocks will be struggling to find enough wriggly things to satisfy all those gaping mouths. The fact is, if you've fed the birds in your garden right through what has been a very mild Winter, then you are much more likely to get pairs of birds nesting in or around your garden that much earlier than would normally be the case. However, the vast majority of insect species that the birds depend upon to feed their young will not have adapted anywhere near as quickly to either your bird-feeding habits in particular or to climate change in general, resulting in a severe shortage (at least for the next couple of weeks) of all those little grubs and caterpillars so vital to the staple dietary requirements of many baby birds!
Yes, I admit, there are a few Butterflies and things around already, such a Peacocks and Brimstones, but they're the first-phase individuals....the ones who hibernate through the Winter and then become active again in the early Spring. They wont be around for long however and it will be the second-phase ones who'll emerge from caterpillars later in the year and who you'll enjoy seeing during the Summer!
Basically....if you feed the birds regularly throughout the Winter, then please continue to do so well into the Summer. There is a great deal of inter-species disharmony caused by climate change at the moment and, for the time being at least, the survival of chicks like the ones in the picture above could depend entirely upon your willingness to provide things like insect-based suet blocks, live mealworms and nibbed peanuts!
WARNING....Whatever you do, DON'T put out whole peanuts! The parent birds may try to feed the entire peanut to a chick resulting in it choking to death! It's very common and the same thing applies to the artificially large mealworms you can buy these days....the ones fed on growth hormone! It's also a good idea to avoid using cheap, grain-based bird-food bought from the guy down your local market....It will probably be imported and therefore likely to be covered with a cocktail of herbicides and insecticides that are potentially deadly to very young and adult birds alike! Proprietary brands, such as "Chapelwood" or the RSPB and BTO endorsed versions may be more expensive, but at least they're safe!
As for the birds in my own garden, "GT" and "GTi" (the Great Tits) are currently sitting on eggs in the bird-table nest-box, three pairs of Blue Tits (so far) are in the Sparrow terrace at the font of the house, the Dunnocks are back in the pine trees near the patio, "DT" and his overly neurotic mate are in the pine tree next to the oil tank and the Wrens are nesting behind the top shed! On top of all that, I think that "Highbrow" the Song Thrush and his mate are nest-building on a shelf inside the old wooden den that I built at the top of the garden for my kids when they were little and....Oh yes, the House Martins are due back any day now!
Finally, I'm putting up a new Woodpecker nest-box in one of the trees in the woodlet at the end of the garden today. It may not prove successful this year, but there's a good chance something will show an interest next year. The last time I put up a box intended for woodpeckers, it was occupied almost instantly by a pair of Starlings which I was quite pleased about really, if only because the familiar old Starling is a species in serious decline at the moment!
Ladybird, Ladybird.... Looks as though I caught this little lady just as she was heading back home....She was in a hurry too....I wonder why?
Chaffling This is the semi-leucistic Chaffinch that hangs around my garden for most of each day. I've mentioned it before in the diary section of the .com site and, until now, I've been convinced that it's a male bird. However, over the past couple of days it's been inseparable from a normal male Chaffinch, so it might just be a female!
"Global Warming My A**e!" Nearly two inches of snow fell last night (6th April) and came as a bit of a shock to a great many of us who were just beginning to get used to the idea that Spring had well and truly sprung! "Scraps" (above) looked pretty fed up with it all and the fact that I had to sleep out in it last night high up in the hills in just my bivi-bag on a bed of pine branches with my roll-mat placed on top just about summed it up! I'd set up the new PIR trips we use these days, taped the audible alarm receiver earpiece thingy to my good ear (rendering me practically deaf and unlikely to hear so much as a herd of Deer as they trampled me under hoof!), crawled into my Arctic 5-season sleeping-bag, zipped up the bivi and was asleep well before it started to snow. When I woke up around 0400hrs to the sound of something snuffling about nearby (the earpiece had fallen out of my ear at some point during the night!), I felt unusually warm, but only because I was completely covered in snow!
April Crowtoe I grew up calling them "Crowtoes", but people just stare at me as though I'm not quite all there if I try to use such an age-old country name for Bluebells these days. Meanwhile, if I'm quick enough and people are unable to get away from me in time, I treat them to a couple of "interesting" facts about this threatened and therefore highly protected little Lily.... 1....Bluebells are only native to countries fringing the Atlantic Ocean! 2....The plant's tiny white bulbs were apparently used in olden times to make a remarkably efficient glue...a kind of medieval equivalent of Superglue, except that it didn't just stick the top to the tube and your fingers to everything else! 3....The bulbs also contain starch which the Elizabethans utilized as a stiffener for their ruffs. ....Now you see why I don't have many friends! WARNING WILL ROBINSON! It is totally illegal to either pick, dig up or trample upon Bluebells wherever they happen to be growing in the British Isles and to do so, still carries a 12th Century mandatory death sentence whereby you are forced to watch re-runs of "Ye Olde Peter and Katie Show" until you beg to be put to the sword....I believe that two and a half minutes is the current record!
Lily the Pink
Jenny Wren She looks as though she's full of eggs (maybe as many as seven or eight) and just about fit to burst!
Jenny Wren, Jenny Wren Losing patience yet again Should your husband dare to rest Instead of building you that nest ....the one you'll choose from several made ....the best in which your eggs are laid
So panic not....it wont be long He's starting now to sing his song Just cast about and make your choice To the glorious rhythms of his voice
(Daisy W, June 1940)
The Summer of 1940 was a particularly worrying time for the people of Great Britain...the German invasion of Europe was all but complete, the name "Dunkirk" was on everyone's lips and barely thirty miles of English Channel separated British soil from overwhelming Nazi invasion!
Still only in her mid-teens, my Mum was living at home in the old country cottage with my Gran and Grandad together with her many brothers and sisters. Two of her maternal uncles, both serving with the 2nd Battalion The Gloucestershire Regiment, had been wounded at Dunkirk, but had been successfully returned to England in the first wave while the rest of their Battalion had remained behind to provide screen cover for the main bulk of the evacuation.
The eventual safe return of my Mum's uncles to British shores was, quite naturally, of enormous relief to the entire family....even though they didn't actually get back to their families as such until several weeks later. Nevertheless, this must have been a time for my Mum to be relatively thankful, even as two more uncles and all of her brothers prepared to enlist in the Forces themselves!
Interestingly, the War years were when my Mum's poetry writing was at its most prolific....but always on the subject of Nature. She never once wrote a poem about the War itself, about friends or family serving in either Europe or Asia or at sea or about the harsh times experienced by all those around her. For my Mother, Nature must have been a desperately important means of escape from the awful reality of life under seige!
The "Jenny's Choice" poem was based upon her own observations of a pair of Wrens nesting in my Gran's garden. She noticed that the male bird built several prototype "cock" nests before the hen finally decided to choose one, at which point the little female would line it with moss, feathers and/or down to finish it off!
The Anenome Within The more I look at it, the more I think the centre of this flower looks like the top of Action Man's head!
Violet Primula Another shot of a Primula fom the garden
My first Sweet Violet for 2008 on the "Arty-Farty" page
Preening Male Siskin Not only do they look like Canaries, but they sound a bit like them too, so it's no wonder that until quite recently, some people were keen to keep wild Siskins in cages in their homes! I remember how it was possible to exchange old clothes and shoes, etc for wild birds, such as Linnets, Siskins, Bullfinches and Goldfinches with the Rag and Bone Man or even to buy them from him with cash and that a male Bullfinch for example, could be bought for as little as three shillings or a pair for five bob!
Everyone Has Their Price! For the price of a mealworm, "DT" the Blackbird allowed me to get close enough to him today to use my Ricoh camera!
"Tubby the Nutter" Looking a bit old, grey and grizzled these days, Tubby has been a regular visitor to my garden for years and knows all the tricks for getting into the bird-feeders. Note the small scar just above his nose....He acquired an injury long ago (probably in a confrontation with another Squirrel) which became infected for a while and could easily have been the finish of him, but he got through it ok in the end! When I think about it, this very large Squirrel must have cost me a fortune in peanuts, sunflower hearts and fat balls over the years, but I don't really begrudge him....he's only doing what I'd do if I was him!
"Uppity Bill"....aka "Mr Angry" I've put a few pictures of this particular Robin on my websites, but this one probably epitomises the belligerent nature of this bird more than any other! In all fairness though, what thoughts do you suppose go through his little mind as he sits there surveying his universe?
"Ruby" the Robin Mate to "White-Eye", "Ruby" is easily the most timid of my four resident Robins, one pair occupying the front garden, the other pair at the back....most of the time! "Ruby" is also the only one of the four that I haven't yet been able to persuade to feed from my hand! Meanwhile, I thought I'd add this technically rather poor photgraph to coincide with the run on Robins I seem to be having on both my websites of late!
"Blotch" So-called because of the unusual blotchy mark rather than the more familiar dark streak on his breast feathers....Blotch is one of the birds currently showing an interest in nesting in the Sparrow terrace nest-box at the front of the house. He also nested in there successfully last year.
Ratty A lady from a village just over the hill from me tapped me on the shoulder at my local garage a couple of weeks ago and asked if I knew anything about rats because she'd got one! She told me that she'd contacted a pest-controller, but that he'd turned up at her house a bit more p*ssed than pest and had tried to insist that poison was the best, if not the only option....adding that she didn't need to worry because it was "a completely harmless poison" (his words) and wouldn't therefore, be a danger to any other animals! However, she was very worried about using ANY type of poison, simply because she has two small dogs and an apparently large, but rat-phobic cat who all enjoy complete freedom of both the house and the garden. In addition, she looks after her three young grandchildren two afternoons a week and was also afraid that a poisoned rat might easily crawl into a wall-cavity or floor-space and end up dying there! Understandably therefore, she said NO to the poison! A disgruntled Mr Pesty subsequently decided to lay a few snappy-type spring-traps instead and finished by saying he'd be back in a day or two....He also suggested that the lady should check the traps occasionally for herself and call him if anything transpired! A week later however, the rat was still active and the traps were still empty....She finally rang Mr Pesty to ask him to come and take the traps away! Mmm....Over the years, I've grown to understand that rats are emotional and intelligent little critters....intelligent that is, in a kind of inversely proportional way to pest-controllers (I could write a book about it....and perhaps I should). Therefore, I set off to the lady's house that very afternoon with my trusty, self-designed and totally humane rat-trap which I eventually set up near the garden shed after first working out exactly how the animal preferred to negotiate the area. On this occasion, I chose to use a very special brand of rat-bait developed after thousands of hours of exhaustive research and "live" testing on human Guinea-pigs by Birmingham-based scientists at the outset of the Cold War....namely, a Cadbury's chocolate finger! I returned the next morning to collect "Ratty" (above) who I then released (just like the Wood Mouse shown on the "Home" page of www.wildliferanger.com) from the cage/trap about an hour later....having first driven with him in the back of the vehicle to a remote spot miles from anywhere! That's "SMUG" by the way, with a capital S M U and G)!
Spring's a- Comin'
Mmm? Like so many of the things I come across on my travels, I'm not entirely sure what this is. There was plenty of it around, standing about half a metre tall, near the edge of a Cotswold lake and my best guess would be some kind of Sedge as the stems were three-sided....perhaps it's a type of Cottongrass. Meanwhile, I know that many of you out there will know exactly what it is, but I can't even find it in any of my books, so I shall have to return to the site later in the Spring!
"Scraps" I took this picture today (12th January, 2008) for the benefit of those people who e-mail me to enquire about the health and well-being of "Scraps" the one-legged Chaffinch (see further down this page). Well, as you can see, "Scraps" is doing just fine and, despite the snow that's fallen up here in the hills during the last twenty four hours and the sudden drop in temperature, he's having no difficulty helping himself to the food I put down for him in the garden. Mind you, what amuses me about this tough, resilient and determined little bird, is the "nobody loves me" kind of expression always present on his face. He invariably looks as though he's all got all the problems of the world resting squarely on his tiny feathery little shoulders....but then, wouldn't you if you had to get by the best you can all alone in a world that shows no mercy and takes no prisoners!
Chapter 26 of "Slices" entitled "Unto Us" is now on the "Slices and General Diary Stuff" page
Common Lizard This photograph represents another one of those curious moments when I sense that I'm being watched. I usually get such feelings just after I've settled down in the middle of nowhere to eat my lunch....and sure enough, as I glanced down at the ground to a point no more than three metres from where I was sitting, I suddenly spotted this Common Lizard sunbathing on an old piece of wood. I'm pleased to say that he hung around just long enough for me to take this picture before scuttling off into the undergrowth almost faster than the eye could follow! In fact, I managed to glimpse a fair few Common Lizards while I was working on the North Cornish coast in mid September 2007. The weather was very sunny and dry all week and it seemed that virtually all of Cornwall's indiginous Reptile species were intent on taking full advantage of the Sun's gloriously warm rays. For a more detailed account of this particular week in Cornwall, see the "Green" page at www.wildliferanger.com
Peacock Butterfly I was totally amazed today to see what seemed like countless numbers of Peacock Butterflies all together in a sun-drenched field of ripening wheat. Most of them had settled, one per wheat-stalk, while a few flitted idly from place to place. I'd never seen the likes of it before....so many Peacocks....hundreds....all in one place....but then, as I took a step forward to take a photograph, they suddenly did that flashing, distracting eye-spot thing that Peacocks do and took to the air as one....a cloud of russet-brown and purpley-blue....Wonderful! It was a little piece of uniquely uncharacteristic animal behaviour that could mean almost anything....or, then again, nothing at all. Unusual weather patterns of late, dislocated seasons, record dry spells alternating with record downpours, hail and snow in June and July, strange cloud formations, unusual light effects, storms and floods....and more floods! Add to that the number of increasingly strange episodes of animal behaviour I've been witnessing lately....such as the shoals of laterally rotating eel that I saw from the "bridge over the River Wye" in Chepstow back in June....they were just about breaking the surface of the very muddy river water, but I considered it to be odd behaviour simply because the thicker-skinned eel doesn't normally rotate like certain other species of fish sometimes do (except that we've all been recording increasingly high levels of acid in some of the heavier downpours of rain on odd occasions since around 2005) nor, for that matter, do eels gather in fairly large numbers in the middle of June ....Then there have been the small to medium-size flocks of Starling flying virtually blind late at night in and around my own village throughout this Summer (certainly not normal behaviour for them either)! There have been a hundred other, far less obvious things as well, but I notice them....the localized patches of mutated, twin-headed Dandilions which test as completely normal....or the colony of seventy or more Rooks that I watched a week or two ago as they repeatedly flew down from the trees to land on the road....then back into the trees after a few moments of head-bobbing and feather-shaking antics....then back to the road for more head-bobbing and feather-shaking....they did it over and over again....I've never seen that before either....wierd! Then there was the Gordian knot of writhing Earthworms, probably forty or fifty of them....the size of a cricket ball....on Robinswood Hill near Gloucester. I haven't seen one of those since the 1950s....On that occasion, I placed the heaving mass in a box to take to school for "show and tell", but sadly, all the worms had separated by the time I got there! Such examples of extreme animal behaviour are certainly unusual (though not always entirely unheard of in other species) and I would normally dismiss them as being fairly insignificant if they occured in isolation over many years, but these incidents are not isolated and they are happening in quick succession! Coincidence? Perhaps....or separate pieces of a much larger and infinitely more complex picture? More worryingly, some say that they could be symptoms of something far more sinister! Mmm....I don't know about that, but something of a very fundamental nature is undoubtedly changing out there and only time will tell how serious it really is! It's no good asking the experts either, they're always far too busy focussing on the bits and pieces of whatever they're studying at the time to be able to take-in everything else as well, but some of the farmers and the rural "characters" I've spoken to just lately have also been noticing some pretty odd stuff....as one of them said to me...."there's something more akin to a shift of some sort....in Nature herself....almost like a shiver or a shudder"! Or, as one particularly elderly and knowledgeable country gentleman called "Old Tom" (son of "Even Older Tom"), observed the other day...."it's like someone's walking over Mother Nature's grave"!
Red splash with a dash of Meadow Crane's-Bill...A Mystery Unsolved! I came across the first of these stuck in a gatepost near the village of Chedworth in the Cotswolds. Then I found another about a hundred yards away...and then another....and another. In fact, they occurred about every one or two hundred yards (paces) in an almost straight line all the way to Bourton-on-the-Water nearly fourteen miles to the East as the Crow flies!
They certainly hadn't been there long because none of them showed signs of withering and I always felt that whoever was doing it was never more than a couple of hours ahead of me....though I never saw them and I've never known who did it or why.
They used a variety of flowers and leaves in various combinations and if there was any significance as to how they combined them, I've never been able to work it out....and believe me, I know about the cultural, historical, medicinal and dietary backgrounds to every one of them!
This was in the Summer of 2005 and I've not seen its like since. I photographed each and every one of them and marked their positions on my map as I found them. Altogether, I counted more than two hundred and covered the distance in just under three hours....only stopping to photograph each one and mark it on the map.
Remember, this was across open and sometimes difficult terrain and if whoever was doing it was just a couple of miles ahead of me, then I'm impressed because walking is basically what I do for a living and fourteen miles is just an average day for me, but they weren't just walking, they were finding the flowers and making these things as they went along....and that would take time....Too much time really!
So why do it? There was certainly no guarantee that anyone would find any of them, given where they were, let alone that whoever found one would then decide to follow the rest for as far as they went! I only did it because I was curious and I was kind of heading in that direction anyway!
It turned out that I'd actually picked up the trail near its beginning(I caught a bus back from Bourton later in the day to see how far they went the other way, but they only went about half a mile and appeared to stop at Chedworth) and I assumed that it was the beginning because they were always facing towards me as I walked towards Bourton.
Anyway, I guess I'll never know the answer, but it did remind me of the time back in the 19th Century when a single, perfectly straight line of tracks, looking as though they'd been made by a pogo stick, appeared in freshly fallen snow during one Winter's night and proceeded across open countryside for nearly eighty miles, avoiding the larger villages and conurbations, deviating drastically only for the largest buildings and obstacles along the way and always heading from West to East!
Apart from wondering who did it, I also wonder just how long this sort of thing might have been going on, as well as where else and in what form?
Wren Take a little round ball of feathers, add a pointy beak, a silly sticky-uppy tail and a pair of big feet and you have yourself a Wren....and here's one I made earlier. I'm actually amazed that this picture came out ok because this tiny Troglodytes troglodytes was more than living up to his Latin name by skulking about in the darkest recesses of the thickest woodland undergrowth that he could find and wouldn't keep still for more than a few moments at a time! He was also making it very clear to me that he didn't want me anywhere near his beloved nest, which appeared to be hidden in a small hole deep within a nearby ancient Cotswold stone wall and also where his equally feisty mate was sitting on a fresh clutch of eggs! I'm dedicating this photograph to the only people I saw all day....a friendly, chatty lady and gent with a lovely Golden Retriever dog who were actually being closely shadowed by Mr. Belligerent as they all came down the woodland trail towards me! Out of interest, The Wren is reportedly the UK's most common and adaptable bird, with an estimated eight million pairs occupying virtually every possible type of niche habitat....from suburban gardens to mountain forests, from coastal clifftops to farmland meadows and from industrial landscapes to country hedgerows....a truly remarkable bird!
2007....House Martin Return Earliest Yet! (See House Martin survey stuff on "Survey" page)
Vulgaris or Media? Talking to a friend this morning (no not my pretend one....he's on holiday at the moment), I happened to mention how often I've been seeing Wasps while out and about....in fact, I've been seeing them since December! Not surprisingly, he was slightly skeptical, not having seen one himself so far this year (remember, none of the Wasp species are really due to be particularly active until later in May). Quick as a flash, I decided to smear some of my special home-made, top secret, extra-strength Wasp and Bee attractant, "WBA #A1" (cunningly disguised as runny honey!) onto a tree branch at the top of the garden to see what happened....Then I smeared some more onto the shed window ten minutes later after one of the Squirrels ("Bubble" I think) licked it all off! Checking back half an hour later, I was delighted to see this very large example of Vespula vulgaris enjoying the sticky provender! At first, I thought it was the much scarcer Dolichovespula media, sometimes (and very unfairly) described as the "Killer Wasp", but I don't think it has quite enough black in its markings (notice how cleverly I try to make it look as though I know what I'm talking about by using Latin names). Does My Bum Look Big in This?
Battle of the Wagtails....Male Grey Wagtail (Above), Male Pied (Below) Bibury is a bit of a hot-spot for Wagtails and always has been. The geography of the village and the sheer abundance of insect life emanating from the shallow, quite fast-flowing River Coln, surrounding woodland and the little marshy nature reserve all combine to provide the perfect Wagtail habitat. I've spent the last five years studying the Wagtails here and have managed to work out a number of the territorial perimeters that are so fiercely guarded by the incumbant males, particularly in the Spring. There is one place in particular, near the road bridge adjacent to the trout farm and hotel, where three such territories all come together. Two are held by pairs of Pied Wagtails while the third is the province of a pair of Grey Wagtails. One pair of Pieds occupy a nest-site on the Hotel side of the river and another pair dominate the reserve side of the bridge. Meanwhile, the Greys are firmly ensconced within the grounds of the Trout farm. Corners of the territories meet at the bridge and this is the place where much confrontational tail-wagging, posturing and ariel dog-fights take place, particularly between the males, as all the birds compete for the prolific numbers of insects hovering near or above the river. This year's situation has been complicated and tempers enflamed by the intrusive behaviour of one of last year's three surviving Grey Wagtail juveniles and a solitary rogue Pied (White) Wagtail. I got the old digi-scope out for once and took these pictures on 3rd April.
"An Afternoon at the Wildlife Park" on the "Survival Guide Thingy" page at www.wildliferanger.com as well as "Cleopatra?" on the "Diary and General Stuff" page
Crimson and Cream Tulips....looking like a sunset over Sydney Opera House....or maybe just a bunch of flowers!
Tender Moments I stood and watched this extremely devoted pair of Magpies for more than half-an-hour today (3rd March) amidst the early blossom of an Evesham Vale apple orchard. Magpies are usually cast as the "villian" of the piece because of their tendency to predate the eggs and young of countless other bird species (although such behaviour has been proven by several agencies not to have any really detrimental effect on the population numbers of their victims). However, the ultra-vigilant and very smart Pica pica also happen to make tremendously loyal and doting partners and I took great pleasure in watching the male of this particular two-some acting out his proffering-based and exquisitely tender courtship ritual.
His MO was quite simple....fly off to find and pick the most appealing dessicated husk of an old apple from last year's crop that you can find and then return to sexy partner with said fruit and proffer as a gift by gently nudging her with it, bobbing head up and down a bit and closing eyes a lot until she finally takes it from you. Then off you go again to find another, even better one. Meanwhile, the female of your dreams sits there with your special gift in her beak, probably wondering why you couldn't find something shiny or at least a box of chocolates from somewhere instead, until she eventually gets fed up waiting and chucks it away (I know exactly how the male must be made to feel by it all....I mean, what exactly was wrong with the dead Noctule Bat I brought home for my wife to have a look at the other day, even if it did have a few fleas?)! Anyhoo, I went on watching the love-birds as the procedure was repeated four more times, at which point, both birds seemed to get bored with the whole thing and eventually flew off to join a bunch of other Magpies in a nearby field, probably to hold a special Magpie "Parliament" or something!
Buff-Tailed Bumble Bee Ok, birds yes, flowers alright-ish,, but insects are definitely not my strong point! Still, I "think" that this is a Buff-Tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus terrestris) and I took this shot this evening (18th February) after it had flown into the bedroom and settled on the lamp-shade. I've been seeing several of the White-Tailed variety (B. lucorum) through the winter (and one Yellow-Banded (B. hortorum), but this fantastic little creature has no right being out and about before April! (There's another picture on the "Diary and General Stuff" page at www.wildliferanger.com)
Old Farm Gate
Chapter 24 of "Slices" entitled "Miko" (Plus Footnote) is now uploaded on the "Slices and General Diary Stuff" page
Thelma (Left) and Louise (Thelma Has a slightly Whiter Chin) Inseparable "friends", Thelma and Louise sit for most of every day apparently super-glued to their favourite branch in a tree at the top of my garden. They sit there, throughout the year, ocassionally dropping down to the seed trough that I top-up for them, the Pheasants and the Red-Legged Partridge every day. All other Collared Dove "interlopers" are chased off without exception! Both birds also exhibit frequent nest-building activity, followed by a tendency to sit around afterwards as if to say "what next?". Well, "what next" actually took place yesterday when a male bird appeared out of the blue and proceeded to strut his stuff across the top of ye olde rustic swing that sits just beneath the branch that's so beloved of our devoted pair. I looked on with interest, expecting the young upstart to be shown the door in no uncertain terms, but instead of that, a brazen Louise dropped down to said Romeo and, before I knew it, the dirty deed was done. No more than 30 seconds and it was all over....amazing (certainly beats my record)!
However, instead of the expected shared cigarette with her new amore, Louise suddenly turned upon the hapless young male and proceeded to give him a thorough beating-up. At this point, Thelma flew down to assist her partner and the young lad was forced to flee for his life!
What to make of it all? Well, Thelma was certainly content to look on as Louise "capitulated" and the "act" most definitely took place. The male was then "seen off" in no uncertain terms by both birds. Now I must wait to see if anything develops. Could it be that T & L will finally fulfil their dream of raising their own family? Is that what they actually want? Was their behaviour in any way determined? Is this sort of thing normal behaviour for Collared Doves....who knows? We'll just have to wait and see what happens next! (See the "General Diary Stuff" page of www.wildliferanger.com for more on our intrepid pair of Doves).
Snowdrops....harbingers of Spring? Wherefore art thou Winter? I've seen Snowdrops towards the end of January a few times over the years, but I took this picture on the 12th January 2007 no less and, try as I might, I can't find a single text book that refers to Snowdrops flowering even before February (a few crocuses are out as well)! Add that to the wasp I saw the other day and the half dozen Bees or so I've spotted this winter (loads of fishermen have been seeing them too) and I'd say you might as well dust off your best pair of Bermudas and dig out the suntan cream....but hold on a minute, unfortunately, I've been getting a fair bit of gyp from the "old trouble" today, so I reckon we must be in for a cold snap....besides, that's what I heard them say on the weather forecast this morning!
Never Begin With an Apology.... I'm sorry, but a very elderly Japanese gentleman once told me never to apologize for my efforts if they're the very best I can manage. Fair enough, but I feel quite strongly that I shouldn't put my pictures on the World Wide Web without first mentioning that I do fully realize that my photographic efforts are sorely lacking in many technical areas. Unfortunately, I am not a particularly technically-minded person and, unlike most men, the gadget/gizmo side of photography leaves me fairly cold. I barely know an F-stop from a J-peg and I struggle to understand half of the functions that my comparatively basic Nikon Coolpix 4500 digital camera has to offer! For the most part, I just set the thing on auto, point it at something, press the shutter and hope. I can only trust therefore, that what I lack in photographic knowledge and expertise is at least partly compensated for by my passion for the subject.
Blue Tit This little fella sat still just long enough to let me take this shot on a pretty slow shutter speed.
Redwing My favourite thrush, the ultra-timid Redwing, is barely as big as a Starling and, like its bigger cousin the Fieldfare, spends the winter here scouring the open countryside for berries and windfalls. All the way from its summer breeding grounds in Scandinavia, I look forward to seeing as many as fifty of these beautiful "rattlers" competing for berries amongst the trees and bushes at the end of my garden.
Coming Soon.... The book the publishers said should never be written!
"Ranger Don's Fully Illustrated Countryside Survival Guide"! (A must-have text for just when you thought it was safe to go back in the woods!)
Downpour On a day when football matches were being cancelled all over the UK due to the unusually wet weather, I managed to get soaked at least four times! Meanwhile, this picture isn't an old-fashioned sepia print, it's just a product of still more strange light effects that seem so common of late! It's almost as if we've gone back in time to the 1940s and 50s, to when people were so poor they could only afford to be in black and white....or earlier still, to when the world was not only in black and white, but completely silent!
I try very hard to capture something of the personality of a bird or the more emotive elements of a landscape because it wouldn't really be enough for me to take a technically perfect picture of say, a Buzzard (not that I ever will) if the picture fails to capture at least something of what that particular bird is all about....otherwise it might just as well be a technically perfect photograph of a tin of baked beans! Ideally of course, it would be very nice if I could achieve technical perfection as well as capture traces of personality in any of my photographs, but I doubt that it will ever happen! Consequently, the wildlife photographers who I admire the most (usually professional) are the ones who have probably spent more years than they care to remember attempting to master both of these elements and, In so doing, have usually managed to shout out loud the unbridled passion they also feel for their subjects through the images they create.
All Spiders Are Not The Same.... When it comes to creating what, to a Common Garden Spider, is simply a means to an end (ie catching your next meal), not all Araneus diadematus are blessed with equal skills in the actual spinning department. The effort above is a good example of a completed, but far from perfectly orchestrated web design...."10" for effort and a "9" for artistic interpretation (especially with the addition of the frost droplets), but points would certainly be withheld by the German judge when it comes to the technical category!
I know that there has been some research into why it is that some spiders are better at spinning webs than others and it's known that web-building ability is dramatically affected when spiders are exposed to certain airborne chemicals, including various types of crop sprays, vehicle emissions and, not surprisingly, alcohol fumes! The web in the picture isn't too bad an effort really and it's still an infinitely more complex and detailed structure than even the very best human artist or design engineer could ever dream of creating! I took this photograph early this morning (21st December) so perhaps this particular spider, who's still very active at the moment, had just one too many Babychams at yesterday's office party!
Brittle I said below in the "Brynn" item that I'd eventually get around to introducing another of my Buzzard study characters and so here is "Brittle". Brittle is Brynn's devoted mate and a very difficult bird to photograph because she's such a nervous and timid soul. She's one of the easiest to identify however, even from a distance....Her plumage is a golden-chestnut colour and she has the most obviously bright yellow cere at the base of her beak of any Buzzard I've ever seen. She also has a creamy-white streak on the back of her head which isn't visible in any of these unfortunately poor quality photographs.
In some ways, Brittle reminds me of my wife ....always doing stuff....busy, busy, busy....never a dull moment! The only real difference being that my wife tends more towards being the emotionally strong, resolute type....nor does she seem to spend nearly so much time at the top of very tall trees as she used to!
These photos are about a year old and show B&B's nest-site in 2005....one that they built from scratch after the old one was blown down in a storm! The two birds managed to raise two chicks through the summer of 2005, but sadly, both youngsters disappeared during three days that I didn't observe the nest! Whether it was predators, some sort of an accident or humans from the planet Maggot Slime I can only guess. Whatever the cause, Brittle seemed to take the loss very badly and continued to frequent the nest-site for many weeks after her loss.
I saw her take a rabbit up to the nest on one occasion. She placed it carefully in the middle of the nest platform and then let out three or four loud mewing cries. She hung around for about twenty minutes behaving in an uncharacteristically subdued fashion. She was certainly a long way from being her usual agitated, fidgety self. She eventually flew off without having touched the rabbit herself! The right-hand photo shows Brittle just sitting up on the nest a couple of months after the youngsters had disappeared.
As daft as it sounds, this sort of "sitting around" behaviour was a worry to me. It's not like her. She's not at all like other Buzzards in that respect. They love to sit around on fence posts and telegraph poles or up trees as they keep their eyes open for their next meal. Brittle just can't manage that kind of behaviour for more than five minutes at best and much prefers to go off to look for her lunch in a slightly more pro-active way! She seemed worryingly lacking in any activity at all for at least three months after her babies disappeared. Even Brynn, her archetypal "Noble Savage" partner, seemed concerned about her at times and brought her almost all of her food for weeks because she certainly didn't appear to eat what little she caught by herself (perhaps though, he too was coping with some sort of loss angst by continuing to feed Brittle after the young had disappeared)! Whatever I might be reading into it, Brittle did seem to be quite "depressed" for quite some time! Interestingly perhaps, She and Brynn, despite still being very much a pair, didn't raise any young at all in 2006!
I get slated by the experts for these sorts of so-called emotive interpretations of animal behaviour, but I don't see the experts sitting beside me for hours on end behind Cotswold stone walls or creeping along tree lines or lying prostrate in irrigation ditches doing the observing! Nor do I recall them working beside me for all those years at the zoo, shaping the way you care for an animal by learning to accommodate all its funny little ways....hundreds of species with thousands of funny little ways. Animals like Buzzards aren't just statistics to be counted, tagged and tracked....Each one is an individual and they all behave slightly differently.
The experts write the textbooks, but they seem to forget that the animals themselves don't read them and most species eventually fly in the face of all academic expectation sooner or later! When a couple of hundred twitchers turn up to "twitch" a vagrant Semi-Palmated Sandpiper spotted at some reservoir near Manchester or whatever, how many of them take a moment to marvel at the fact that the animal probably came all the way from North America completely by accident and almost certainly flew tens of thousands of feet up via the slip-stream (something that humans didn't even know existed until the middle of the twentieth century). It was also probably a journey made at the complete mercy of extreme weather conditions! Totally remarkable when you think about it! Even fewer of of the twitchers would possibly pause to consider the gauntlet of emotions the bird must have endured and how it may or may not be coping with its new "home"....not to mention having to deal with the sometimes hundreds of less than discreet cameras and field-scopes pointing right at it or even a few jerks with sticks trying flush it out into the open just to get their little tick on a list!
A very pushy, middle-aged twitcher once told me to "F*** off" when I asked him not to get too near to a totally exhausted looking little passerine that had finally made landfall amongst some lobster pots on the sea-wall in Lyme Regis harbour after a dreadful storm-lashed night (he wanted a better photograph for a magazine "Rare Sightings" section apparently)! Word had got out that the bird was there and about a dozen twitchers had turned up out of the blue. I was there too, but on holiday with my kids who were about eight and twelve at the time. Needless to say, I didn't appreciate being spoken to like that in front of them. I talked to someone from the little marine museum right there on the quay about the plight of the little songster and they found a suitable container and we took the bird indoors. I showed them how to make a "hotbox" with a few bits and pieces and made up a glycose solution from ingredients that I sent my son and daughter off to buy from the local chemists. It was all simple stuff and the bird recovered and was strong enough to release near the little wetland at Charmouth the following day. Several other twitchers who'd arrived later that morning were very unhappy that I'd taken the bird indoors and that they hadn't been able to see it in-situ so to speak. Two of them gave me a piece of their minds....they'd apparently travelled all the way from Bristol! My concern was for the bird and the further distress it was being caused by one idiot hefting lobster pots around just to get a better view, but then, in my experience, one idiot is all it ever takes for anything untoward or thoroughly unpleasant to happen!
Meanwhile, you will never convince me that an animal such as a Buzzard doesn't experience the world in an emotional way. A Bird like Brittle may not have such a highly developed brain as ours or have quite such sophisticated emotions, but she does "feel" something. I know for example, just how much Parrots can get down in the dumps, go off their food, start behaving aggressively, etc simply because they've lost their mate or a keeper that they're particularly fond of is away on holiday or because you've told them that their bum looks big in something (they can be very vain)! Brittle appears to have a somewhat fragile personality at the best of times and depends heavily on her mate for support which is always readily given by virtue of the fact that he's simply just there for her. I called her Brittle for that very reason! The loss of her two youngsters may well have been what it finally took to push her into the avian equivalent of a mental abyss. Meanwhile however, 2006 has gradually, I'm pleased to say, seen her return to much more of her old agitated self....with the help of ever-faithful Brynn of course!
Next Buzzard up will probably be the beautiful "Bell"....A real heart-breaker and life-taker!
The beautiful "Bell"
Remember the wonderfully brilliant Leslie Philips in those terrific old B&W movies, when he used to say "ding-dong!" in that toe-curlingly lounge-lizard way of his if he saw a particularly attractive female? Well the next Buzzard that I'll feature will probably be the brazen hussy "Bell"....I named her with more than a passing nod to Philips's iconic line. In fact, if Leslie Philips was actually cast as Buzzard instead of a Lizard, then "ding-dong!" is exactly what he'd say about Bell....She's a stunner all right (and don't she know it!)....Mind you, I think that she also tends to put it about a bit!
Meadow Pipit There were a bunch of these little guys sharing the tidal edges with Rock Pipits and Turnstone at Millendreath Beach, Cornwall. They've probably moved down to the beach from pasture-land further up the valley just for the winter. They were all pretty busy foraging about in the tidal detritus looking for sand-hoppers and other tasty snacks....All that is, except for this nosey so-and-so who insisted on watching me all the time I was there!
Louise Above is Louise, one of a pair of Collared Doves who took up permanent residency in the trees at the end of my garden some time ago. Nothing odd there....except that her partner, Thelma (below), is also female! They both occasionally enter into a frenzy of nest-building activity at almost any time of the year, each arriving in the garden with nesting material and then parading about with it. All to no avail of course. They're virtually inseparable and fly in the face of avian convention by (a) rarely associating with others of their kind, even during the winter flocking season and (b), by possibly being the only gays in the village!
Raven's Tree I love old trees and I like this one in particular. I've spent the night bivouacking beneath its wonderfully sinister silhouette on two separate occasions....well out of the reach of widow-makers though! In fact, I took this photograph as I prepared my evening meal the second time I spent the night there. I remember that there was a real sense of "looming" and that it sometimes appeared to move towards me....an effect created by the scudding clouds behind it! Definitely not the place for people with an over-active imagination!
According to local legend, Raven's Tree is the midnight rendezvous for all manner of Faerie Folk, including Elves, Goblins and Hobgoblins and it certainly tends to make an incredible variety of creaky, spooky sounds throughout the night, especially in a good breeze or as it gradually cools down after a hot day in the sunshine. Just like other great trees, Raven's Tree also plays host to a huge variety of very active and persistently vociferous wildlife!
One for Remembrance Day
On Golden Pond Ok, so no more sunset pictures on the Home Page after this one....I promise! There were lots of Wigeon doing Duck stuff on this stretch of water, plus a few Teal, assorted Gulls, Coot, a couple of Moorhen and a Heron and.... if you look very, very carefully....you wont see any of them because they all scarpered off to the other end of the lake once word got out that some hot-shot plonker who fancies himself with a camera was trying to take a picture!
Cotswold Water Park I guess it's sunset season....There's been a decent one nearly every day for the past few weeks.
Unusual Light Here's another of the unusual light effects I keep seeing when I'm out and about....This was taken at approximately 1500hrs out near Chipping Camden on 7th November. The sky was again a strange purpley-pink colour....Am I the only person noticing this or do I just need to increase my medication dosage?
Autumn Sunset Finally, the leaves are turning brown and the colder nights are with us. Autumn has arrived at last. I've noticed that the frosts we've had during the last two or three nights have already finished off many of the late summer wildflowers and some of the birds that I haven't seen in the garden for months, such as flocks of Long-Tailed Tits and a Tree-creeper or two are returning to feed at the peanut dispensers...though I'm not so sure that the Tree-creepers aren't actually searching between the peanuts for tiny insects and not picking at the nuts themselves. This shot was taken virtually from my own front door and it just goes to show that sometimes, by taking a few seconds to pause and look up from whatever it is we're finding so desperately important at the time, we can be rewarded with moments like this....I think that apart from being something nice to look at, it's also very good for the soul.
Brynn Following on from the "Baz" item below, Jenny H (in Dublin) and a Mr. T (no, not that one I don't think) have taken the time to e-mail me to ask about my Buzzards....Well, they're not actually "my" Buzzards, but I have studied them for a long time and have even given them all names (for ease of identification). Buzzards are all different in their plumage, personality and behaviour traits and I've grown to know this bunch of feathered reprobates pretty well.
"Brynn" (above) is everything a Buzzard should be....He soars majestically and effortlessly higher than any other Buzzard in the thermals hundreds of feet above the Cotswold hills. His skin-tingling atmospheric call seems louder and more ethereal than any other Buzzard and he's a very accomplished hunter, whether from the air or from his favourite fence post. He can be very aggressive towards any Carrion Crow, Rook or Raven stupid enough to molest him and he's highly practised at rolling on to his back in mid-air to show his talons to his aggressors....I've occasionally seen black feathers spiralling to earth after such encounters! Generally though, he's pretty much left well alone by most sensible Corvids.
Brynn the Magnificent, riding the thermals on a warm, cloudless Springtime morning, soaring perhaps a thousand feet above the Cotswold Hills. Brynn has his own distinctive markings, but note the dark trailing edge to his wing feathers....immature birds do not have this diagnostic feature.
Unlike Baz, Brynn rarely stoops to scavenging from road kills, but most amusing is how, around mid afternoon (sometimes with his mate "Brittle", a very temperamental and twitchy bird), he can usually be found on the ground in some freshly planted or fallow field doing his best impersonation of Coco the Clown while hunting for insects and invertebrates. The MO is quite simple, but comical to watch....they stand very still (for however long it takes) then suddenly dash, skipitty-hop fashion (sometimes with wings outstretched) for a few metres and pounce! If they miss, they'll scrabble and scratch around frantically in the dirt hunting for their victim, emitting a plaintive cry if they fail to find it. Brynn seems to love earthworms and grass-hoppers the most, but is always ecstatic to stumble across the occasional lizard. Interestingly, his affection towards Brittle is obvious and quite touching when he sometimes presents her with some favoured delicacy or other. It's always a very gentle and private moment between the two birds, but then he's off again, all pleased with himself, skipitty-hop, across the field to resume the hunt for more tasty snacks.
I have dozens of Buzzard photos (including shots of most members of the study group) and, as there appears to be at least some degree of interest, I shall feature a few more of these special individuals as time goes on.
Horned Poppy The Horned Poppy is a relatively scarce shingle beach-loving plant to be found almost exclusively in coastal areas. I found this particular example still flowering on Loe Bar, Cornwall in mid-October. It's a close relative of the more familiar red Common Poppy that grows in national significance as we move into the month of November and, with Remembrance Day almost upon us, it's vitally important to start thinking about what we're supposed to be remembering....
We have basic freedoms of speech and freedoms of movement today only because of the sacrifices that our parents and grandparents made on our behalf during a war of unimaginable suffering. Yet it's so easy to take it all for granted and with so many of a brand new generation of young people not even aware that the likes of Churchill or Hitler ever existed, it's more important than ever to remind everyone that the self-indulgent, complacent, trivial, commodity-driven but oppression-free lifestyles we tend to relish so much these days are possible only because of the price paid by others over the decades who definitely weren't so fortunate.
Just as importantly, we must remember the men and women of all our armed forces in whatever harrowing corner of an unforgiving world they happen to be and who will continue, even as I type this piece, to protect what they believe to be our most fundamental and worthwhile social values. Forget the self-serving politicians (whatever the party....they're all the same) and the politics to which they subscribe....The ordinary Bootneck or Squadie doesn't understand or care about insidious political motives....or the men and women who advocate them. They care most about the soldier or civilian standing or cowering right there next to them, up to their sorry necks in the mud and the blood as desperate sanity collides with blind reason! They care too about their families and friends back home who they need to know will always love them and they care that in some small way (a way that will never be entirely clear to them) they might make a difference....for the good of us all!
Baz Baz....full name, Barry the Buzzard, lives not far from me, inside a 10sq km area with lots of other Buzzards dotted around and I've been studying them all for quite a few years now. Unfortunately, it's one survey that I wont detail on this website because there are still a few individuals in the Cotswolds who continue to harbour somewhat medieval attitudes towards Buzzards and I'm not about to compromise the safety of the birds I've come to know quite well!
It rained this morning....hard! Not to worry though because that meant that Baz would almost certainly be perching, one-legged style (to keep one foot warm and alternating feet every ten minutes or so) on his most special of rocks atop his favourite Cotswold stone wall. He nearly always does it when the rain is heavy and he usually turns up around 1000hrs. So it was just a case of getting there before he did....which I did at 0930hrs, but he didn't show up until gone 1100hrs and I got absolutely drenched and pretty damn cold waiting for him. I was about 50m away and I'm afraid the rain combined with poor light to reduce the image quality, but at least I got something for my efforts!
I like Baz....He's a bit of a character, but I worry about him. He doesn't appear to be particularly good at catching "live" prey and has resorted to "ambushing" road kills! There are hundreds of pheasants around here and lots of Rabbits. Many of them end up squashed in the lane running alongside his territory and Baz takes full advantage of the easy meals. However, once he's "caught" the unfortunate road victim, he immediately adopts a protective stance, covering his prey with his wings in typical Raptor fashion and refuses to budge even for cars! He then spends fifteen or twenty minutes eating his meal right there in the road instead of carrying it off to some favourite perch or other! Sometimes this happens virtually in the middle of the lane and vehicles are forced to go around him! Sooner or later though, someone will fail to notice him or some moron will deliberately run him over! I've taken to passing that way a couple of times a day if I can and fling any road kills I see into the hedges and out of sight. It's only a very quiet country lane, but the sooner Baz masters the art of "proper" hunting the better!
Argen the Gull Love them or loathe them, when you hear a Herring Gull you can't help but think of the seaside. For many people, they are an out and out pest, especially in some of our inland towns and cities where they’ve taken to breeding in significant numbers. Interestingly (to me at least), the claws on the town birds aren't quite as sharp as those on their coastal cousins and that's due to the fact that the "townies" spend almost all of their "ground" time on either concrete or stone and it tends to wear their nails right down.
Apropo of nothing much….I remember reading an excellent book entitled “Argen the Gull” while living in zoo apprentice digs back in the sixties (can’t recall the author though, unless it was Franklin Russell) and can you guess who lent it to me? That’s right Johnny Morris. Wow….Mega name-drop or what!
Eye of the Pheasant I mention my uncle Chris several times on this website and he has a chapter devoted to him in "Slices". He was an old-fashioned type gamekeeper working the Severn Valley throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s. I spent huge amounts of time with him as a boy, soaking up all he was prepared to teach me about the countryside and its wildlife.
Most impressive of all was his ability to "mesmerise" several kinds of wild animal by simply walking, very slowly, right up to them before bashing them over the head with his mighty oaken "Knobbler" (a wooden club fashioned by his father in the Belgian trenches of WWI and used to good effect, by all accounts, in hand-to-hand skirmishing with the Hun). The unfortunate hypnotized creatures that my uncle despatched, usually Rabbits or Pheasants, were always destined for the pot of course and, although my uncle spent a great deal of time trying to teach me the basis of this technique with only a modicum of success, he would raise his hands in frustration as I finally stood above the oblivious victim totally unable to find the dispassion required to do the final heinous deed!
What's all this got to do with the picture shown above I hear you ask....Well, my Uncle's mesmerizing technique is one I continued to practise over the years and, although I shall never ever be able to do it as well as him (I remember he could walk right up to a herd of wild deer or a fox too on one occasion!), I have used his technique to good effect with Pheasants and Rabbits (whose minds seem, shall we say, rather more "open" than most). I also feel a need to cover myself in scrim and smear mud on my hands and face....something my uncle never needed to do and would be disgusted to know that I should resort to such methods....Still, if it means that I can get to within a metre of a beautiful hen Pheasant like the one above to use a hand-held digital camera without the bird having a hissy-fit, then so be it!
Common Garden Spider It's that time of year again....Nearly autumn and Spiders are appearing all over the place. If you're not having to cope with a Common House Spider the size of a saucer in the bath first thing in the morning, then you're walking smack bang into the spiral-type webs of the Common Garden Spider every time you go to the dustbin or hang the washing out! The little male Garden Spider pictured above (the female is much bigger) had spent most of the morning sun-bathing in the middle of his intricate web tucking into his tasty, home-made insect pie with the secret "venom-x" ingredient injected to help soup-up the contents....Gordon Ramsay would be proud! Interestingly, I was once taught that an "insect burger" about the size of a McRonald's may not only be tastier, but would be about twenty times more nutritious....Yummy!
Juvenile Mandarin Duck I finally decided that this is probably a juvenile Mandarin rather than an adult male in eclipse plumage. I took the shot on the banks of the Gloucester/Sharpness Canal about a mile or so from Slimbridge WWT. This exquisitely marked little duck was playing the usual "can I be your friend if I tag-along" with a group of Mallard....It's funny how they do that, but given a total lack of their own species for company, I suppose it's better than being lonely and more vulnerable.
The juvenile's plumage is in stark contrast to the magnificent look of the drake bird in adult life (see below). The eclipse adult must forsake his magnificent plumage as he enters into an "eclipse" phase for the summer....a time when, with a family to care for, he really doesn't want to be drawing attention to himself! Still, it must be pretty depressing for him having to go back to being an ugly ducking after being such a beautiful....er....duck!
Mandarin Drake Ageing thespian and crumbling luvvie, Mandarin Drake, trod the Shakesperean boards for so many years down in old Stratford town that they finally named a duck after him (or maybe not)! "Yea....Whatever", (as my fourteen year old daughter would say)....The difference between the male juvenile or eclipse and the winter plumage of a drake Mandarin is nothing short of staggering (see above)! I photograhed this little beauty at about 100m from Beaufort Bridge not far from the marina in Tewkesbury. He too was playing tag-along with a bunch of Mallards!
Small Tortoiseshell It's September and the Buddleia in the garden is still pulling in the Butterflies as much as ever!
Juvenile Kestrel Unbelievably cute, this young Falco tinnunculus sat very obligingly in a conker tree for me to take this picture from about 40 metres away. The tree was towards the edge of a very large and open garden near Toddington and the bird made repeated attempts to swoop down and grasp with his claws a number of strangely "threatening" Jackdaw feathers blowing across the lawn! In this respect, he reminded me of a kitten chasing a piece of wool. It was obvious however, that the Kestrel, just like the kitten would be honing its hunting skills to near perfection and that's pretty much where the "cuteness" factor ended! (More of this bird on the "General Stuff" Page).
Cirl Bunting This exquisite little character happens to be one of the UK's rarest birds and tends to be confined to just one very small area of the South Devon coast. I was down there for about ten days in the summer of 2006 to do all sorts of ranger stuff, including a snap-shot survey of Emberiza cirlus here. I managed to count 41 of them while covering 110 miles of coastal footpaths, bridleways and woodland trails.
Male Stonechat This must surely be one of the UK's prettiest, nosiest and most feisty of birds. You will see them almost anywhere along the coast (in the south and south-west especially) attracted to the swathes of prickly gorse that they love to call home. Like this one, they are easily spotted, perched as high as they can possibly get on the most exposed of twigs to ensure they don't miss anything at all interesting!
Sunbathing Mistle Thrush This is one of a pair of Mistle Thrushes nesting in a very old Horse-Chestnut tree in a village a few miles down the road from me. I spotted this one on a telegraph wire and stopped to take a few pictures. It was a very warm day in May and the bird had ruffled up its feathers to cool itself down a bit. It was then that the other bird, sitting on the nest concealed in the tree, started kicking up a real fuss with the arrival of a pair of Magpies. This caused our sunbathing friend to come very quickly to a full DEFCON 5 state of alertness! True to form, the Magpies immediately set about intimidating the nesting Thrush. However, the usual ploy of "you get her to chase you while I nick the young!" failed to materialize....The Thrush on the wire suddenly dive-bombed one Magpie from above and behind (coming out of the sun!), taking it completely by surprise! At the same moment this happened, the female flew straight into the face of the main aggressor! The Thrushes "rattled" their anger as only Mistle Thrushes can and both Magpies fled to a small copse some hundred metres away to lick their pride! Mistle Thrushes are our largest Thrush and can be very aggressive....as both Maggies found out to their cost this time!
Baby Squirrel Bubble here, has a brother and a sister....Alan and Squeak! Drawn initially by the copious amounts of birdfood, they have adopted my garden as some kind of play-park. Mostly they love to tease my dogs and outrage the Jackdaws who, as far as the "Terrible Trio" are concerned are there purely to provide them with endless entertainment. They also happen to be the offspring of "Tubby- the-Nutter", long-time resident in the wood at the end of my garden.
Dunnock I've been trying to get a half-decent photo of a Dunnock in the garden for ages. Unfortunately, the branch spoils this one by dividing the picture up too much, but I think I've caught something of the mental intensity that lurks behind the eyes of these little birds. Dunnocks are very aggressive towards each other and will occasionally fight to the death, especially at this time of year (spring/summer)! I've always thought that they have a half crazy look in their eyes which might be more obvious if you substituted its beak with that of a hawk! Garden Visitor Having fledged from a nest in the wood at the end of the garden, this young Nuthatch was, along with a sibling, in and out of my garden for about three weeks in the summer of 2005. They spent much of their time searching for insects under the peeling bark of my children's old rustic swing and they also discovered a taste for nibbed peanuts placed in a container on one of the bird-tables. Occasionally, they would also have a go at the whole peanuts in the feeders, but with less success.
"Scraps" In complete contrast to the Pheasant and Blackbird above, this desperately unhappy little Chaffinch has had a thoroughly miserable time over the past few weeks....His problems began back in February when he broke his left leg really badly somehow (possibly on one of those lethal little net bags that people put balls of suet in and hang out for the birds, but which snag their claws as they fly away)! I've fixed broken legs on lots of birds, soI tried to catch him with a bamboo frame net. He was always far too canny however (although I could have caught just about everything else in the garden including the dogs four times!). He struggled on though, until he lost the leg altogether....It must have been so painful and bewildering for the little scrap! On the plus side, he seemed to avoid any major infection and is obviously learning to cope with his disability. He is totally unable to perch properly and can only manage an awkward sort of squat. He has great difficulty moving about on the ground where Chaffinches usually like to forage about under the feeders and he uses up far too much energy flapping his wings furiously to keep his balance! I put sunflower hearts (which he loves) in the blue feeder especially for him and, despite not being able to perch on the thing for even a moment, he has learnt (quite cleverly for a finch) to fly into it, causing a few sunflower hearts to fall to the ground each time, whereupon he swoops down and eats them up before other birds realize! A true example of adapting to overcome! Saddest of all is that Spring must be stirring his loins as much as all the other birds, but the hen Chaffinches will have either nothing to do with him or are very aggressive towards him! I took the three pictures above on 1st April, 2006 just after he'd been attacked by a particularly unforgiving hen Chaffinch that he'd been doing his best to impress all afternoon! I can honestly say that, in all my dealings with animals of all kinds over the years, I have never seen such unhappiness and dejection etched into the face of a bird....and yes, I may be 6 feet 3 inches tall, weigh 16.5 stone and was even a Royal Marine once upon a time ago, but that plucky little bird breaks my bl**dy heart! "Scraps" Update 8th May, 0820hrs....It would appear that "Scraps" has acquired something of a fan club! I've received e-mails from a number of people expressing concern for the little fella and all wanting some sort of progress report with regard to both his health and his love-life....Well, I can assure everyone that, despite a growing dependence on hand-outs from me, "Scraps" seems to be glowing with health and is currently (as I type this update) sheltering from a fairly heavy downpour up on the roof of one of the Blue Tit nest-boxes placed in the newly foliaged ash trees. As for his love-life, I'm afraid that he still appears to be "single", but then, if an article in one of my wife's health and fitness magazines is to be believed, he might be better off, as an estimated 90% of unhappiness in the UK is apparently caused by "relationships"! (How the heck do you work something like that out?). I'd just like to say thank-you to all those who have taken the plight of this little Chaffinch to your hearts, but, as is often the case with anyone who suffers a physical disability (including people....especially people in fact), it tends to be their strength of character and a fierce determination to simply get on with their lives that really sets them apart and not the disability itself! For that, they deserve respect and not pity. "Scraps" will survive or succumb depending on a combination of luck, his ability to adapt to his situation and the strength of his inner resolve. Most birds (of any species) would not survive something as catastrophic as the loss of a limb, but for whatever reason, "Scraps" did survive, but must continue to adapt on a daily basis. He survived one winter (miraculously) and can now look forward (hopefully) to a more plentiful Summer. His worse days should be behind him physically, but whose to say what emotional struggles he must still overcome....His search for a mate and his failure to find one (so far) may well be something even harder to endure than anything he's been through to date. Who can guess what goes on in the mind of a Chaffinch.? My guess is though, that "Scraps" will overcome whatever the great crap-hole of life will choose to dump on him and that he'll be around for a little while yet at least!
So, What Did the Press (and Others) Have to Say?
"Takes the expression 'grumpy old git' to completely new depths"!....Age Concern Quarterly
"Great Tits!"....The Sun
"It would be nice to think that the so-called author could actually manage to stand up straight and finish a sentence at the same time, but on the strength of this nonsense, it still seems very unlikely!"....Mr 'Pick it and eat it' Peters, my old English teacher.
"Even we can't believe it!"....Fortean Times
"We love the erudite compositional sub-structure so cleverlyunder-pinning the resolve of this internet masterpiece!....Oh yesand....LOADSA GREAT TITS!"....The Daily Star
"Yeah, right like....Am I bovvered?"....The Sunday Times
"Good grief!"....Bird-watching Magazine
"Gets right to the root of the problem!"....Great Orpington Dental Review
"We absolutely wash our hands of the whole matter!"....Twitcher’s Times
"What internet site?"....What Internet Site
"Cor, she's a bit of alright!"....Bird Fanciers Weekly
"Great Tuts!"....The Guardian
"Every now and then a truly great internet masterpiece comes along....Let's hope it's soon!"....Dave from next door
"Couldn't we get some sort of petition going or something"....Anita Bush, Editor of The Village Voice
"Living proof....Care in the Community really does work!"....Care-Worker Chronicle
"We're on to it!"....Watchdog Review
"Totally immature!"....Nathan, age three, from Number 19 over the road.
"In the beginning, God created the idiot just for practise....and then he created this guy!"....The Church Review
"Definitely the worst case of loose vowels we've seen in a long time!"....British Medical Journal
"Words fail me!"....'Speechless' from Inverness
Please note.... I would like to thank the highly skilled and infinitely patient technical and support staff of netbenefit.com, the web hosts for this site. Without their tremendous expertise, none of this would have been at all possible....So blame them!
Albeit as a last resort, you might even consider visiting.... www.RangerStuff.co.uk
My most recently constructed website thingy. However, as you'd expect, it's nothing special, just another predominantly Wildlife/Tess/Diary-orientated wotsit compiled in pretty much the same vein as its two sister sites....though perhaps a tad more organised.
Wild Dog Rose
Above and Below....Another Suspiciously Unusual Death in the Woods Mid-June, 2014 about 2030 hrs. Picture 1....Tess attempted to pick up the scent trail of the very big and grizzled old boar Badger who has lived alone in this sett for the past few months. He was the only one to survive when the cullers paid him and his clan a visit last year and he has since refused to allow any new Badgers to share his home. Tess had no luck picking up a trail however and a close examination of the area immediately surrounding the sett entrances revealed no sign of any Badger activity whatsoever within the past week or so.
Drawing a complete blank therefore and with Tess clearly convinced that there were no Badgers actually within the sett itself, we moved off to search for Badger sign in the surrounding woods and fields....
Picture 2....It was beginning to get dark (hence the very poor quality of the pictures and using flash photography when attempting to track wild animals in poor light is definitely not a good idea) when Tess suddenly came to an abrupt halt fifty or so yards ahead of me, clearly 'pointing' to something off to her right.
The breeze was coming from that direction and, as I drew to within a few yards of her, I finally caught the same smell that had stopped her full in her tracks....the putrid and gaggingly unpleasant stink of something very dead.
Picture 3....It was the old boar Badger himself. Dead for about a week and rapidly decomposing.
Picture 4....Short on time because of the fast-fading light, I was at least able to determine a number of important facts before darkness fell completely....
(i)....This was an almost identical type of killing pattern/methodology to the one involving the little Muntjac Deer pictured further down the page.
(ii)....This kill site was less than a mile from the Muntjac kill site.
(iii)....This very large Badger had been 'ambushed' about twenty-five yards away in a woodland clearing almost certainly from the top of an old, partly demolished wall, whereupon, a gargantuan struggle had seemingly taken place in the vicinity of the wall with soil and decayed leaf litter (humus) churned up all over the place and a wide variety of plants damaged with some still in a fairly flattened state.
(iv)....Death, as with the Muntjac, appeared to be by asphyxiation apparently caused by some kind of protracted choking bite/hold to the throat (what could do that to a full-grown boar badger?)!
(v)....This attack probably took place about a week after the Muntjac kill with the carcass then being dragged to a much more secluded and sheltered spot. A big old boar Badger like this one will easily weigh up to forty or forty-five pounds....I know because I've taken TB-related blood and urine samples from scores of dead Badgers (usually road-kill victims) in recent years and because this one was killed in a fairly secluded, off-the-beaten-trail sort of place, there's not a dog in the world that would bother to drag such a heavy carcass twenty-five yards just get a little bit of extra cover. A dog would be more than happy to eat such a kill in situ.
(vi)....Drag marks, still very evident even after a week, easily confirmed that the Badger had most definitely been killed in the clearing by the wall and subsequently dragged to the feeding site.
(vii)....The bite dimensions were less clear due to body swell and general decomposition factors, but were approximately the same as the bite marks on the Muntjac. Other, claw-type marks were apparent on the Badger's back and flanks when I turned the carcass over, but the maggot-bloated state of the carcass (it was absolutely full of them) made accurate measurements virtually impossible, though I made them anyway.
(viii)....Again, as with the Muntjac, feeding entry had be from the rear with the softer tissues being eaten first (as would a Fox), but it was something as hungry for bone marrow (if not hungrier) as it was the more readily available soft tissues and organs (and with a bite ratio strong enough to crack fairly thick bone) that had bitten clean through the Badger's femur.
(ix)....There was absolutely no human track or spoor-sign apparent at either the kill site or the feeding site. That doesn't mean that there weren't any humans involved, it just means that I couldn't find any trace of one.
(x)....Only fragments of the attackers' track-sign were still visible and were pretty much inconclusive and even the Badger's track-sign was barely recognizable. However, clumps and individual strands of hair torn from the badger during the attack were inter-mingled with hair from an, as yet, unidentified animal, samples of which I have sent off for scientific examination together with several of the Badger's front claws.
(xi)....I can't stress enough that if this big boar Badger was truly attacked and killed by another animal, then the attacker(s) must have had exceptional fighting ability and a considerable weight advantage....not to mention a strong element of surprise born out of an ambush predator mentality....and an awful lot of luck. Remember, a Badger is actually a great big Weasel and, like all members of the Weasel tribe, they are truly awesome fighters....tenacious, courageous and vicious in equal measure. All but a very small handful of apex predators anywhere in the world (and, even then, only those subject to a significant deficit in the common sense department) are stupid enough to take on a Mustelid in a one-to-one situation....Particularly one weighing somewhere in the region of forty to forty-five pounds....and armed with the fiercest set of canines found anywhere in the UK....as well as a fully lockable pair of jaws ("you get bit by a Badger, you stay bit!" as my Uncle Chris the gamekeeper once told me when I was a boy)....and a full set of claws that even Wolverine would be proud of....Bearing in mind that a Wolverine is a giant Weasel too....and only a fraction bigger than a Badger!
Anyway, I'm convinced I'm getting closer to solving this mystery one way or another once and for all!
Wild Summer Roses
Above and the Three Pictures Below....An Ambiguous, Though Compelling Mystery Kill There are three types of animal kills (especially those involving larger mammals, such as sheep and deer), that always catch my attention....(1), the type committed by canids which are usually (though not always) of a quite recognisable type and typically very messy....(2), kills carried out by felids which are generally far less messy as well as being very distinctive for a variety of other 'signature-type' reasons and, (3), kills perpetrated by humans, but which are sometimes made to look as though something else did the dirty deed for reasons best known to the human concerned.
However, things aren't always as crystal clear as you might expect, as was the case here, involving this predated buck Muntjac that Tess and I stumbled upon late in the day early in June, 2014. I normally investigate such kills thoroughly, but the light was fading fast and my camera batteries had finally given up the ghost just prior to our grim discovery.
Not wishing to contaminate the scene by stumbling around in the twilight in my big size twelves, I decided to return with Tess at first light to take lots of pictures (of which these are but a small sample), make copious notes, draw a few sketches and give Tess the chance to scent outwards from the feeding site (as I suspected, it wasn't the actual kill site) and to generally help me join all the dots. Sadly however, from a tracking, scenting and spoor-finding perspective, it had rained heavily right through night....Very heavily!
Anyhoo....There were a number of unusual things to make a note of here from the outset and they were the main reasons I had been so keen to return as early as possible the following day....
1....The 2" wide bite(?) marks on the Muntjac's neck/throat which had apparently been the cause of its death by asphyxiation (later confirmed by our boffins).
2....A complete lack of dog savaging-type bite marks anywhere on the body.
3....A single 4", claw-like gash running downwards from front to back about thirty degrees to the horizontal on the left shoulder area. Had this been made by a claw, then it's possible that the animal would have been pulled down on to its left side and gripped by the throat with the predator's upper canines entering on the right side of the neck. A single hole is also visible on the left side of the throat area opposite the marks on the right-hand side. Note....I did not rule out at the time that these 'holes' could have easily been made artificially by some kind of sharp implement, such as a knife, in some kind of attempt to make the wounds look like the bite marks of an unusually large predator, although the bite dimensions would be too wide for all but the largest of dogs, even if canids killed their prey that way....which they don't.
4....The relatively heavy kill had been dragged from the very open field margin kill site to a more concealed feeding site about forty yards away and well enough hidden to remain unobserved by any passing Corvids (two days after it was killed, its eyes were still in their sockets!)....Such efforts to hide a kill is very much a cat characteristic (though also fox)....or maybe it really is just a stupid human trying to be clever?
5....Some additional effort had been made at concealment by attempting to scrape or kick leaf litter over the carcass (see the 'innards' shot two pictures down on the right) though there was less of it remaining than was there on the previous evening, suggesting that something else probably fed off the carcass during the night. Had it been the original predator returning to its kill, then I dare say it would have attempted to re-bury the remains (though that's little more than half-informed speculation). Things would have been so much clearer if it hadn't rained so hard and so relentlessly!
6....I'd already noticed when we first discovered the carcass that feeding had taken place probably during the previous night and shortly after the kill had occurred with the predator focussing on the muscled hindquarters. When we arrived back at the site the following morning however, it was immediately clear that something else, probably a Fox, had fed further into the carcass from the rear (A Fox, Jackal and Coyote technique) targeting the soft organs. The stomach contents (showing green in the picture below on the right) had been spilled, but the intestines remained mostly intact. The bones and ribs were also still intact.
7....The suspiciously clean-severed right ear (severed as if with a knife, though bite marks are perhaps just visible on the right) is perhaps the biggest mystery....at least to me. I learned both in Canada and East Africa that some predators, especially cats (but also Foxes and Wolves occasionally), consider the ears of some prey species, such as White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer and Caribou (Canada) or Bushbuck, Kudu and Sable Antelope (East Africa) as something of a delicacy. The odd thing about this particular ear however, is that it probably went missing a while ago, considering how quickly it appears to have healed with at least a degree of scar tissue!
A Two Inch+ Bite Dimension ....If it actually is a bite....Plus, the mystery of the missing ear!
Despite the heavy all-night rain, Tess was still able to track outwards from the feeding site to the kill site and I'm fairly convinced that whatever it was that killed the little Muntjac, it did so by launching itself onto the back of its unsuspecting prey from the top of this twelve foot high slope at the edge of an open field. That's a big jump....at least it would be for a Fox or a dog, even if jumping down on top of things happened to be their general MO...which it isn't. Canids prefer to run things down, snapping and savaging at their prey as they go. Wolves, for example, are well known for biting junks out of prey as large as full-grown bison and literally eviscerating them on the hoof, so to speak!
No....I don't think for one minute that a dog was responsible for this kill and certainly not a Fox. As for a human....Well, maybe....Possibly even probably....Except for one thing. If you're going to go to all that trouble in some kind of pointless effort to fool people into thinking that there's another large feline on the loose in an area already inundated with so-called 'Big Cat' sightings, then why hide the evidence away in a totally secluded place where nobody ever goes? Nor do I think it was meant for me to find. It's almost a year since I last visited this particular spot and I only went there this time on a spur of the moment decision.
A Very Unpleasant Occurrence, End of January, 2014 Not really commensurate with the kind of thing I normally put on my websites, but the two pictures shown above plus the two immediately below (I took well over three hundred altogether plus several videos) do at least help to illustrate the senseless and sickeningly awful demise of what had previously been a quite petite and fairly young sow Badger probably no more than two years old.
This is not, incidentally, an altogether uncommon scenario here in the relentlessly picturesque and touristy Cotswolds....Signs of a shockingly grotesque so-called 'sport' indulged in by complete and utter local morons who absolutely delight in almost any opportunity to inflict as much pain, suffering and indescribable terror on a completely helpless wild animal as they inhumanly can.
It began for Tess and me late in the afternoon on Thursday, 29th January with Tess drawing my attention to a well-trodden though, in places, equally churned-up area of semi-scrubland. It was then that I noticed large quantities of Badger hair, mostly in blood-stained tufts, spread across an area roughly 25m x 25m. There was also hair, some black and some brown that I was able the following day to identify as coming from two very different dogs (though other sign at the scene indicated that at least three individual dogs were involved). More blood (both Badger and dog) soon revealed itself to Tess plus a great deal of Badger track-sign revealing a complete spectrum of pressure releases confirming without a shadow of a doubt that some kind of protracted and extremely violent struggle had taken place involving at least three or (more likely) four individual animals.
A fair degree of human-specific sign was also in evidence, including seven different types of footprint, two cigarette butts (both found by Tess) and several indentation marks made almost certainly by the pointy end of one of those shooting/walking-stick-instant-fold-down-seat-type thingys that are always so useful when you suddenly need to park your big fat lazy a*se while gorging yourself on all the excitement to be had from watching some poor terrified creature being torn apart (literally) by two or three blood-crazed killer dogs!
Meanwhile, the tracks of three vehicles (two 4 x 4s and a van, the latter with double wheels at the rear) were also clearly visible about thirty metres away in a small, off-road parking area. Similarly, assorted footprints and other track-sign definitely belonging to the exact same humans as those at the scene of the Badger/dog 'fight' were easy for Tess and I to locate and follow both away from and back towards the vehicles....
....Assuming that any animal killed in the fight (dog or Badger) would have be taken away and disposed of, I was mildly surprised when Tess eventually led me to what was left of the the Badger's carcass beneath a hedge about seventy-five metres from the fight site. It was relatively easy then to determine that the badger had, in fact, simply been left for scavengers at the fight scene and that a fox (possibly two) had dragged the dead animal to the cover of a hedge and begun feeding off it.
Other scavenger sign was also apparent around the carcass, including Crow, Gull and Rat and, as is apparent from the photographs, not much is left after two or three days, including the skin and fur which, as far as I could tell, seemed to have been removed in one piece by a human using a very sharp knife immediately after the animal was killed, though I'm not really sure why.
I am sure however, that this young Badger (note the lack of development of the sagital crest which gets higher in Badgers as the animal ages) was raised in captivity. Meanwhile, the lower incisor teeth show an abnormal degree of wear and tear, common amongst animals kept in confined spaces and cages far too small for them, whereupon they soon develop severe anxiety issues and chew constantly at the bars or wire....A feature amongst certain zoo animals back in the 1960s when I was a keeper, but better these days now that zoos concentrate on housing less than half the number of species they used to and providing more space and better conditions for the ones they do have....
....An abnormally excessive amount of plaque and calcium had also built up on most of the animal's teeth, indicating a very poor diet full of completely inappropriate food items (she was probably fed entirely on human leftovers). Such staining of the teeth used to be another common feature amongst zoo animals too back in the day, particularly with primates and caused almost entirely by idiot human primates throwing all kinds of rubbish from chewing gum to chocolate to lighted cigarette ends into cages and enclosures. By the way, if you fancy trying a really dangerous extreme sport, then have a go at removing the plaque from an adult male baboon's teeth with a metal scraper when he's not in the mood and tranquillisers and anaesthetics are deemed too expensive for such rudimentary procedures. I guess keepers were obviously more expendable than the animals in those days, though we didn't really think about stuff like that at the time and just got on with it!
So basically, Here's an animal that was probably kept captive for perhaps two years, kept in abysmal conditions, fed on garbage, probably terrified by dogs at every opportunity to make her both fear and hate them and finally released among a small crowd of dickless, witless, slavering, inadequate morons who set dogs on her and all in the name of sport. They even probably believe that by releasing her into the open, they were actually giving her more of a 'sporting' chance....Though the reality was she had no chance at all and was literally torn limb from limb as the humans, eyes bulging, cheered, jeered and shouted and the dogs bayed, growled and snarled and, in the middle of it all, an innocent, helpless young sow Badger who had never done anything to anyone screamed and screamed as she died a slow, agonising and terrifying death.
....and people genuinely wonder why I hate, loathe, detest and despise humanity so much.
Working on Christmas Eve, 2013 Interestingly, Tess picked up a tick during the course of the day....The first time I've known any of my dogs to do so smack-bang in the middle of winter!
Winter Leaves.... ....Still clinging to the trees in late December!
Autumn Leaves.... ....Whispering the sounds of past summer days.
Mid-May, 2013 and Our Quest to Protect the Cotswold Otter Continues at a Pace ....and calculating overall numbers, determining gender ratios, establishing behaviour patterns and identifying territorial boundaries is the key to doing exactly that in the most effective way possible.
Working the Riverbanks
Spraint Tess examines her third spraint find of the day. Otter spraint has a slightly musky (some say sweet) odour that isn't the least bit unpleasant....unlike Mink scat which is foul-smelling and one type of faeces that Tess simply refuses to go anywhere near. I bag and tag all our spraint finds and send them off to our boffins for expert contents analysis. I also destroy any and all other Otter sign we discover in an on-going effort to to conceal their general activities from those who remain determined to wipe them out.
Above and Below....Tess Simply Ignores the Worsening Weather
A long, all-day walk in the high hills during the last week of February 2013 and as the mid afternoon weather deteriorated rapidly and light snowfall turned into a veritable blizzard in less than ten minutes, Tess and I decided to move from the more exposed fields into the relative shelter of a nearby woodland....
She's Always Been Quite a Plucky Little Dog
....We still had seven miles to cover before arriving home however, mostly across open countryside and with less than two hours of daylight remaining. Not really a problem in the relatively tame and overly manicured Cotswolds, but we did walk more than twenty-one miles in total that day.
Healthy Looking Fungi and Lichens ....are usually good indicators of clean air.
For Jacob.... "Only when the last tree has died, the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize that we cannot eat money"
A typical truism (one of many) imparted to me almost eighteen years ago by a very good friend. His name was Jacob Crowriver (Crowriver in translation) and he was a First Nation Canadian aborigine, a professional loner and the best tracker, survivalist, dog handler and boots-on-the-ground naturalist I've ever known....and all without a single academic qualification to his name!
As it happens, I wrote down literally dozens of Jacobs 'pearls' of wisdom in my diary during the eight months I lived with him in the old wood cabin he built himself (around age twenty) far out in the Canadian wilderness some fifty-five miles from his nearest neighbour. Mind you, I also suspected that he tended to lay the old native philosophy thing on a bit thick sometimes simply because I did tend to write a lot of it down! I worked in Canada for ten months altogether, mostly in the Yukon.
Anyway, happy days.
Sadly, I learned only today (1st February, 2013) that Jacob passed away shortly before Christmas following a brief illness. He never revealed his exact age (possibly, he didn't know it himself), but he must have been in his eighties by the time he died....Yet, I am not altogether sad for him because he told me once that he was looking forward to the moment when, after his death, his Spirit would soar above the forests, the rivers, the muskeg and the mountains of his beloved Yukon. Those self-same forests, rivers, muskeg and mountains that he not only loved with such passion, but which he campaigned so relentlessly to protect throughout his adult life.
Jacob was a true Canadian Aborigine in every sense....A remarkable man....A man completely at one with Nature and a man truly at peace within himself.
It's fair to say that I learned an incredible amount about the Natural World from Jacob and about all aspects of tracking and trailing in the wilderness...."Tracking", he once said, "is the original forensic science" and, needless to say, his attention to the minutest of details made him the most meticulous observer of sign I've ever known. He missed absolutely nothing and expected me to emulate him at all times even though it soon became clear to both of us that I would never equal him or even come close!
For all too brief a time, he was my friend, my colleague and my mentor and I shall always be grateful for the months we spent together and the knowledge he imparted to me.
I have many photographs of my time in the Yukon, but they are all in slide form....and I have more than 40,000 slides dating back to the late 1960s! However, I shall try to find a decent picture of Jacob (he was fiercely camera-shy and I took just a few candid shots of him), then I'll get it printed if I can and upload a digital version here.
Tracks, Tracks and More Tracks
Cradle of the Sun ....Also the title of a desperately poor science fiction short story I wrote a few years back about a manned mission to Mercury and how rapidly things began to unravel when the crew suddenly realised that no-one had remembered to bring the factor 50!
Light in the Forest 0220 hrs in the forest and the otherworldly effect created by the lights of the bad guy's land rover. Mmm....It's odd how I never see the likes of so-called expert wildlife enthusiasts Chris Packham, et al in situations like this.
As it happens, I've been doing a lot of night work over the past two or three months (particularly in the forest) to make up for the daytime hours (about four or five a day on average) I've spent sitting patiently reading and drinking multiple cups of coffee in Gloucester Hospital canteen while my wife endured three consecutive courses of intra-venous chemotherapy treatments. She'll be needing a fourth apparently, in the New Year. Unfortunately, Her multiple myeloma cancer has had a sudden and fairly aggressive resurgence and she's fighting it with a strength and determination (not to mention continued lashings of manuka honey and large mugs of green tea) far beyond anything I'd be capable of. Strangely (or perhaps not), it was Tess's early detection of the sinister changes in the levels of the extremely toxic para-proteins in my wife's blood back in the summer and her increasingly concerned behaviour towards my wife that alerted me to the fact that something was definitely amiss!
Port Eynon on the Welsh Gower It's hard to believe just how poorly my wife was feeling when I took this shot. This was back in September, 2012 and her new courses of treatment weren't even scheduled to begin until early October. Plus, our son had recently moved to Berlin, where he'll be doing his psychology doctorate and our daughter had left for university in California just a few days beforehand (where she's loving every minute of being the only Brit on campus and has already completed about half of my bucket list by the way....without even trying!).
As it happened, I had about ten days of ranger work to do in South Wales and, rather than Tess and I go by ourselves in my motor-home (or not go at all because I'd only worry about being away from home), I suggested that my wife tag along for an 'unofficial' holiday. So she did and we had a really nice time. It's one of our favouritist places in the UK and we have a long history involving literally dozens of wildlife orientated visits to and surfing holidays on Gower.
Out of Port Eynon and a slow climb up to the Point ....Not exactly an easy walk when you feel like cr*p the whole time, but there's absolutely no stopping her!
Looking Across the Bay Towards Burry Holme on a Very Wet and Windy Day ....and a special, seven mile yomp over to Rhosili Bay and Worms Head. This was the very first place that we came to when we first started going out together nearly four hundred years ago. We camped in a field in the merry month of May on the edge of Rhosili village and it was blisteringly hot! We woke up on the first morning to find three chickens in the tent! It was also the week that someone snuck in and stole my unopened Battenburgh cake....Nothing else, just my cake....B******s! Possibly another chapter for "Slices"? It's all recorded meticulously in my diary of that year.
Sunset at Home
Bug-Eyed Powershot....Shot It's been six months since I've added anything new to any of my websites (I've been pretty busy doing new ranger stuff mostly) which means that I have literally hundreds of summer and autumn-type photos that, ordinarily, would have made it onto one or other of said sites, but are now unlikely to do so simply because it takes about fifteen minutes on average to prepare, upload, install and caption just a single image and sometimes I can feel my life just slipping away!
After all, it's not as if my pictures are anything special. Plus, I only use a small, outdated, though suitably lightweight, second-hand Canon Powershot which I bought for £30 on ebay out of desperation a couple of years ago. Ideally, I would continue using the equally petite, but much more macro-efficient Ricoh 'R' range. Unfortunately however, after a succession of Ricoh disappointments, involving the R5, R6, R7 and R8, I found them to be nowhere near robust enough for outdoor-type, all-weather work.
Above and Below....Back to Work For those of you out there who may have been concerned about Tess's fitness after her day at the vet's being x-rayed etc while under anaesthetic, she was eventually passed fully fit and totally healthy. No bone or ligament damage and absolutely no sign whatsoever of hip or any other joint problems. Just a touch of probable soft tissue damage that she acquired goodness only knows where (probably while chasing a ball or a frisbee) and permission was given for her to return to work after a day or so to allow her to fully recover from the anaesthetic (note the shaved area on her right front leg in the above photograph where the cannula had been attached).
So, it was back to work two days later....Work that involved mostly low impact scenting, tracking and swimming (her favouritist type of work which she'd do it all day if I let her) along a stretch of Otter inhabited Cotswold river....and the weather was bright and sunny and springlike and altogether pleasant.
Crocus in the Park ....ie, Cheltenham's Pittville Park where I stopped briefly to take a picture or two after getting my hair cut after partaking of a coffee at the M&S cafe after going to the bank after dropping a very worried and nervous-looking Tess off at the vets' where she'll spend the day being anaesthetised and having her nearside rear leg x-rayed after suddenly developing a slight limp.
Amazing ....to think that there's almost as much of this very old tree under the ground as there is above.
Above and Below....24th February, 2012 with some parts of the UK experiencing record temperature variations so early in the year. In fact, several places in the Midlands have gone from minus 15 degrees Celsius to Plus 18 degrees Celsius in less than two weeks!
View Across the Valleys
Another January Sunset Around 1630 hrs.
Just added to
"We Sit, We Observe, We Report and Then We Wait"
(This is one of the "Reluctant Ten" incidentally....ten chapters from "Slices" that I've always been reluctant to upload, though I dare say people will wonder what all the fuss was about as far as this particular "Slice" is concerned....but then, I guess you had to be there)
A Bit of a Grey Day
Meanwhile, just a note to Ava H who lives in South-Western Oregon, USA and who perhaps may well be missing out on a promising career as a private detective....
"Thank-you very much for your kind words. I receive no feedback whatsoever concerning any of my three websites and don't really have a clue as to how well they are received out there in the ether (or not as the case may be).
By way of explanation....I no longer make my e-mail address available on my websites, a decision which followed several unsavoury incidents a few years ago relating to my job as a wildlife ranger.
The Invaders....AKA...."The Claw Wars!" Normally the sort of thing you'd expect to see attached to someone's face in a Sigourney Weaver film, this creature is, nevertheless, a horror story in its own right, but if you want to know more about it, then I suggest you try Googling "American Signal Crayfish" because I simply don't have the time to begin even scratching the surface when it comes to this particular ecosystem disaster area!
I will say this though....This riverbank-undermining, fish egg-eating, crayfish plague-carrying monster (this one measured 16cm from the tip of its rostrum to the end of its tail) is the sole reason that Tess and I never work on two waterway systems in the same day and why we nearly always work heading downstream....Such is the devastation potential of this otherwise cute and cuddly crustacean. In fact, after Tess had first drawn my attention to it and I had removed it from the river in order to examine it, I would then have been in serious breach of the law to even attempt to place it back in the water.
So what to do with it? Well, it soon became apparent that this particular specimen was a little out of sorts and so I bagged it, tagged it and took it home, where I placed it in the freezer to kill it painlessly before phoning Nigel, the Boss' UK-based science dude, about it. He turned out to be as interested as I'd anticipated and arranged for it to be picked up and transported via ballistic freezer van to some sort of path-lab up north where it will be examined microscopically by lots of people in white coats and no social life.
Why go to all that trouble? Well, an out of sorts Signal Crayfish has to be out of sorts for a reason and so it's always worthwhile getting people with lots of letters after their name to take a closer look under laboratory conditions. Failing that, I guess they could eat it!
On the other hand, if you see one then leave well alone. After all, you might be mistaking one of our beloved and increasingly rare White-Claws for its evil Yankee cousin. Besides, you need special Environmental Agency licenses coming out of your ears to even think of messing about with crayfish in the UK and believe me, fines of up to £2,500 are thrown about like confetti when people just look as though they're about to transgress what amounts to UK conservation's most sacred commandment....
"Thou shall not violate the river of the White-Claw"....and quite rightly!
Who's a Pretty Boy Then? Silly, but I didn't take a photograph of the bright crimson undersides of the claws. However, you can see the diagnostic turquoise-blue colouring (sometimes white) of the claw hinges in the top picture and the defining parallel ridge structures of the rostrum just above the eyes in this photograph (those of the White-Claw Crayfish tend to come more together at the tip).
Tess is Amazingly Proficient at Stumbling Across These Giant Lobster Wannabes ....though admittedly, few of them are quite as large as this monster which may well be at least seven or eight years old. Nevertheless, she always draws my attention to them, particularly the ones she discovers on dry land as they make their way relentlessly from river system to river system.
This is where Tess has opened up a whole new dimension of finding stuff in the wild. In fact, I wouldn't have noticed a single one of the five Signal Crayfish that she's so far sniffed out on dry land....and neither would anyone else!
Go Out I Beg of You
"Go out, go out I beg of you And taste the beauty of the wild Behold the miracle of the earth With all the wonder of a child"
The Repeated Refrains of Nature
"There is something infinitely healing in the Repeated refrains of Nature....The Assurance that dawn comes after the night And Spring after the Winter"
(Rachel Carson from "Silent Spring")
Though We Travel the World
"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not"
The Beauty of the Earth
"Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will Endure as long as life lasts"
(Rachel Carson from "Silent Spring")
Poetry of the Earth
"The poetry of the Earth is never dead"
To The Man of Imagination
"Some see Nature all ridicule and Deformity....and some scarce see Nature at all, but to the eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself"
"Nothing is so beautiful as Spring When weeds, in wheels, shoot along and Lovely and lush What is all this juice and all this joy?"
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)
Buds of May
The Blackthorn Blossom and the Bumble Bee Sounds like a 1970s folk band album title. Meanwhile, a female Bombus terrestris or a female rupestris maybe?I'll plumb for the former because it's probably a bit early for rupestris, but I'm often wrong!
Regurgitated Barn Owl Pellets Let's face it, who doesn't dream of finding the perfect Owl pellet? All those exquisitely formed, but totally gross little rodent skulls that only a day or two previously were part of a living creature running around in the hedgerows and fields. Well, the thing is, I've been collecting, analysing and recording what I find in them for years. In fact, they were nearly always the mainstay of my little nature table displays when I was very young and still at primary school way back in the 1950s. As for the ones in the picture, I gathered them from beneath the nesting box I built myself and put up years ago in an old, tumbledown stone barn-type building just a couple of miles from where I live. It was a long time before a Barn Owl finally chose to occupy it, but it's been the regular home of a pair of Barn Owls ever since.
Breakfast ....Just like being at a MacRonald's, but with an infinitely more nutritious offering on the menu!
Shack Probably even older than me, this ancient and crumbling wooden monument to a bygone age ends its days in sad and lonely isolation beside one of the quieter and more remote sections of disused railway line in deepest rural Worcestershire. I can easily imagine though, how it would once have provided welcome shelter from the worst of the elements for many a railway maintenance crew as they huddled together inside for warmth during their winter lunch breaks and passed the time by playing cards and downing cups of hot, steaming tea poured from tartan-patterned Thermos flasks....
....and I could almost swear, as I stood there ever so quietly in such a melancholy place and as I forced myself to listen very, very carefully, that maybe, just maybe, I could somehow sense the faintest of voices echoing across the vastness of time....The voices perhaps of those self-same, weather-worn and elemental men carried to me on the breeze from high above in the gently swaying branches of the nearby trees....and wasn't that the merest hint of occasional laughter I could hear....and weary complaining too, about desperately low wages, the hardships of life and yet another day of biting cold and piercing rain to be endured?
Drizzle Followed by Showers Followed by Rain "March is the month that shows people who don't drink exactly how a hangover feels"....Garrison Keillor
Snowdrop on Midsummer Hill Standing amidst some of the most ancient prehistoric earthworks to be found anywhere in the UK right on the cusp of Spring, a place like this can have a profound effect on anyone "fortunate" enough to be sensitive to such things.
When I Was a Boy in the 1950s.... I would spend my weekends and holidays wandering miles from home with my dog, Slipper, at my heels. On sunnier days, I would make my way to this very tree perched high on a hill half a day's walk from home and sit for ages on the lowest bough staring out across the valley below, watching silently as the world passed me by. Slipper meanwhile, would doze mostly amongst the sun-dappled shadows on the mossy grass below, occasionally rising to wander off to have an adventure or two of his own, but always returning twenty or thirty minutes later with his tail wagging and the joy of life in his eyes.
"I don't worry about the world coming to an end today because it's already tomorrow in Australia"
Snowdrops on the 1st February A little later appearing this year (for the most part) due to the extreme weather we've been having of late. Nevertheless, it looks as though there will be an above average showing despite the inclemency, so keep your eyes open for them.
Cat-Finder General Tess makes it all so much easier these days than it used to be.
Bourton-on-the-Water Totally picturesque, but almost completely devoid of visitors during all the bad winter weather.
Male Great Tit One of many Great Tits currently visiting the feeders in my garden while thick snow covers the surrounding landscape. Temperatures dropped to around -17C up here in the Cotswolds last night (7th/8th January) and the wildlife is feeling the brunt of it. Driven by the almost complete lack of available naturally occurring food sources, no less than 29 different species of birds have now felt compelled to take advantage of the extra food I've been putting out for them since the first of the snow began to fall.
Onwards and Upwards The 4th January and almost a thousand feet above the Severn basin and still climbing. That's not snow by the way, but exceptionally heavy frost. Temperatures on the hill had reached -12C overnight and despite the early morning sunshine and the clear blue skies, things hadn't improved much. In fact it was still extremely cold in the shade (possibly as much as -15C) when you added the old wind chill factor!
Still, it was these very conditions that drew me up there in the first place and the chance for Tess and I to get in about six hours of useful SAR practise as well as searching around for any interesting wildlife tracks and other sign.
Sadly, it was too late for us to be of significant use the day before (Sunday) at Frampton, but we spent the rest of the day sweeping the entire area anyway just in case anyone else had been involved, but thankfully, they hadn't (that's the day we were chased by the horse by the way)!
Flooding River Thames Close to It's Source Near Cricklade
Old Friends Whereas Tess is usually very mistrustful of strange dogs who are allowed to roam willy-nilly all over the place when off their leads and who are similarly allowed to just bound headlong across to her (all because, I might add, she's learned the hard way that some of them can be extremely unfriendly, if not downright nasty....though, apparently, that's entirely my own fault, according to their often extremely belligerent owners, because I have Tess on a leash most of the day), she doesn't have any problems whatsoever with horses and two of her best friends in all the world both happen to be particularly tiny examples of the incredibly hardy, Thelwell-type Shetland Pony.
One of them, "Blackie", is entirely black and he and Tess love nothing more than to run free together in his paddock when we go to visit. The other, "Blondie" (pictured here), never fails to run the length of her field to greet Tess as soon as she sees her. This is inevitably followed by much excitement and a great deal of mutual sniffing and (at least as far as Tess is concerned) uncontrollable tail-wagging.
I suppose that it's fairly unusual behaviour for both types of animal, but I never tried to discourage it once it had become obvious that they were being friendly towards each other and were keen to be together. Besides, if Tess has been made to feel so wary of most other dogs through repeated unfortunate experiences, then at least this enables her to enjoy the companionship of animals who she feels she can actually trust....however unusual that companionship might seem to be to the increasing number of people who think she's just a very peculiar and strangely affected dog....Although I did say to one lady recently who had been rather too quick to criticise Tess's behaviour, that perhaps she wouldn't be quite so damning of either Tess or myself if it was she and her own sickeningly pampered pooch who were hopelessly lost on some featureless moorland or on a bleak mountainside in a killer storm or in a white-out blizzard or freezing fog and it was Tess who risked her own life to go and find them and drag their sorry a*ses back to safety, but after that comment, I was immediately informed that I was being both ridiculous and downright rude! Best of Friends, Blondie and Tess Enjoy Pressing Their Noses Together Through the Fence
A Dog Too Put Upon? Three times in as many weeks, other dog owners have remarked to me that I'm being unfair, if not cruel as far as Tess is concerned. "It's too much for her" they said, "Why does she have to be out with me all day?". "Should a dog be forced to cope with so much work and training?". "How can she be expected to work such long hours in all conditions and in every kind of environment?".
Of vital importance in any on-going search and rescue operation is a search dog's trained ability to find, even at night, any possibly lost or discarded items, such as clothing, shoes, jewellery or even mobile phones that might belong to, for example, a missing child or an elderly person suffering from dementia, but who has well and truly wandered off with the weather fast closing in. It's not beyond the realms of possibility after all, that such items could easily reveal important clues as to the missing person's probable whereabouts. Surprisingly however, search dogs usually need to be taught to look routinely for things that might be located well above their own eye-level as well as in all those awkward to get to places on the ground!
Mmm....Well, maybe they're right and I should limit Tess to no more than an hour or less of stick-throwing, frisbee-catching or ball-chasing every day like any normal dog. She certainly enjoys that kind of thing, but then, she already does one or other (plus her favourittist thing of all....swimming) during her lunch-break. Plus, what would she do for the rest of the day....Stay at home all by herself presumably! I don't think so. Besides, she howls and cries by the front door for hours if I go out in my work clothes without her and I'm certain she'd go completely insane inside of a fortnight!
Here, a very happy and willing Tess (basically because it's yet another chance to be in the water) practises retrieval in a small, though quite fast-flowing and ice-cold section of river on the water-logged and potentially tricky Wiltshire Downs.
Perhaps she could come with me anyway, but only be restricted to walking by my side well away from any freezing water, rocky slopes, bramble patches or other potentially life-threatening hazards. At least the walking by my side part of it would reduce the number of miles she covers in any given day by at least half, thus protecting her from getting terminally knackered!
Searching for items (or even bodies) in freezing cold water in all conditions, in any environment and at any time of the year is perhaps one activity virtually designed with the incredibly resilient and hardy Labrador in mind, whereas a dog, such as the notoriously aggressive and dangerously unpredictable Pit-Bull Terrier, despite being the preferred breed and affectation of the "look at me, I own a Pit-Bull Terrier so I must be 'ard" type of social inadequate so prevalent in our society today, wouldn't last so much as a morning doing this kind of work....It would be like expecting their owners to be able to yomp fifty miles overnight across trackless terrain behind enemy lines with seventy or eighty pounds of kit on their backs....It just ain't gonna happen! You see, being insecure enough to feel such a desperate need to appear (or even actually be) "hard and aggressive" and being "tough and courageous" enough to be able to do a very demanding and difficult job under the most hazardous of conditions are two completely different things evolved over countless millennia from two very different places in the emotional spectrum. Oops, almost got carried away there. Nearly went into rant mode....and after trying so hard to avoid passing any kind of comment at all on the many illegal-type Pit-Bull Terriers still in circulation (let alone some of their dim-witted owners) following the incredibly horrific and utterly pointless death of that poor little four year-old boy last week in the jaws of his family's totally illegal Pit-Bull!
Look....I do appreciate people's concern, but they have to understand that Tess is a Labrador....a working Labrador in fact and that like any other breed of working dog, such as the amazing Spaniel or Border Collie breeds, she was bred for a life out of doors. We acquired her from a litter born to a pair of typically small, gun-dog Labradors working for their keep on one of the big country estates close to where we live. The breed is world-famous for being immensely tough physically, utterly brave and steadfastly stoic under all conditions. Add to that the fact that Tess is outrageously bright and enormously keen to rise to any challenge thrown at her and you might begin to understand that, if she was suddenly denied the chance to accompany me on a workaday basis and do all the things that have been required of her since she was knee-high to Poodle poo, then she just wouldn't understand it and probably become very, very depressed as a result.
From higher altitude mountain or hillside scrubland to low-level flood plain, training for Tess continues in as wide a variety of environments as possible.
The thing is, Tess and I are a team and I know that's the way she sees it too. Her loyalty to me is unquestioning and, without trying to sound overly dramatic, I would risk my life for her without a moment's hesitation! In fact, the problems we've encountered while out and about in the past have rarely been of our own making and could just as easily have happened to us at any time on any ordinary walk in the countryside. The fact that she was working at the time had nothing whatsoever to do with it.
Tess....from wide awake and ready to take on the world first thing in the morning to totally knackered and fast asleep with her head resting on my arm as I do my paperwork in the evening. Life is undoubtedly very demanding for this little dog, but I know for a fact that she wouldn't have it any other way!
The fact is that there's no way that you can force a dog to work as hard as Tess does day-in, day-out unless it totally wants to. Tess does what she does because she loves doing it and to deny her the kind of life she has loved from the outset now would, I believe, be the absolute cruellest of things to do!
Basically, I recognise in Tess the ability to be a kind of Royal Marine of Dogs, in other words "99.9% simply need not apply!".
Brief Respites As the extraordinary weather continues right across the West and North-West of Britain with only the briefest of respites punctuating an otherwise desperately miserable time for so many people, ten of the others are now helping out with bits and pieces in some of the foulest of conditions to hit the UK in living memory.
Meanwhile, only Dave (in Wales) and myself (in the South-West) remain on stand-by with my own, more "normal" ranger work taking a bit of a back seat during the last week or so as I continue to divide my time fairly evenly between the stuff I'm doing in Herefordshire and the dramatic increase in the intensity of Tess's training. Mind you, today (25th November), I'm stuck at home for reasons completely beyond my control.
Black-Headed Gull Just as the call of the Herring Gull is synonymous with all things of a seasidey nature, the so-called call of the Black-headed Gull is synonymous with that of the headache, with possibly only the Jay being able to compete with the sheer armour-piecing volume of its nerve-jangling tunelessness.
Operation Frankton Memorial
For Remembrance Day last year, I gave you Alan's story as an example of the hardships facing so many of our Forces veterans (see below). This year however, I thought I'd try something a little more "off the beaten track" so to speak to help raise money for a very worthwhile cause by making a direct appeal to the pockets of every butt-ugly, foul-mouthed SoB who ever wore a green beret (of whom I know there are quite a few who visit my websites almost daily)....
The following e-mail landed on my ethereal doormat a couple of days ago....
Re....Operation Frankton Memorial
From Major General A Salmon CMG OBE, Commandant General Royal Marines
I draw the attention of all members of the Corps Family to the request below from the Operation Frankton Memorial Appeal. As a Vice Patron of this worthy cause, I am seized of the merits of building an enduring memorial in France that will commemorate the courage, skill and determination of all those who participated in this important operation, which has achieved legendary status not only in Corps history but also the national consciousness. A small donation is sought from each of many people.
Please give what you can and, in this way, we as a Corps family can raise quickly our share of the target figure. Thank you for your support.
Please Help Us With This Project
Operation Frankton, better known as the 'Cockleshell Heroes' Raid of 1942, was an outstanding achievement but, sadly, only two of the ten Royal Marines that went on this raid survived to return home! No gravestones exist for them anywhere.
Who Were the Cockleshell Heroes?
Royal Marines Order Dated July 1942: 'Volunteers for hazardous duties, eager to engage the enemy, indifferent to personal safety, and free of strong family ties'.
They were ordinary youngsters that answered the call; regulars, recently joined, under-20s, a milkman, a factory worker, a coal merchant's clerk, even a non-swimmer. Few had any skills; most were from the inner cities. Four months intensive training followed, and from 34 only 12 were picked for something special... challenging... hazardous...
Only after the team boarded and the Submarine Tuna had sailed did it learn its mission: to launch their canoes close to the mouth of the River Gironde off the Atlantic coast; paddle 60 miles by night upriver to Bordeaux, and then attack the blockade-running cargo shipping at anchor with limpet mines. Finally they had to escape on foot through 100 miles of German controlled territory to make an agent RV.
Only two survived: two drowned and six were executed by the Nazis. They have no known graves.
Although a small monument exists at Royan and the Frankton Souvenir Trail has been established with storyboard plaques at several key sites, mainly along the escape route taken by Major Blondie Hasler and Marine Bill Sparks.
As yet there is no memorial in France that does full justice to this inspirational story. This project aims to rectify that by building an impressive memorial that will honour not only our fallen comrades, whose daring and bravery gave rise to the cockleshell heroes legend, but also the many courageous French men and women who gave or risked their lives aiding the survivors' escape and the crew of HMS/M Tuna who took severe risks to launch the raid.
What Can You Do?
Exactly As the Cockleshell Heroes did - Rise to a Challenge!
This Appeal is to each and every single serving Royal Marine and to all those Veterans who have worn The Globe and Laurel with pride to help create this long overdue, very special and dignified Memorial to our very own Royal Marines 'Cockleshell Heroes'.
It will be sited in France, near to where they left the submarine. We shall also be appealing more widely including to such as the Fleet's serving Submariners and their Old Comrades Association, and RMA Branches.
Just before dawn on 12 December, as the only two surviving crews were about to separate, Bill Sparks leant down in farewell and said to Mills, 'See you in the Granada... I'll have a couple of pints on the bar waiting'.
They were never to meet again.
The Appeal target is £60,000. If we each and all give what would be 'two pints of beer' eg £6.00 to our Memorial Fund, collectively it could almost buy the Memorial Stone. What finer tribute could there be to our fallen Cockleshell comrades than to be so honoured by today's serving and veteran Royal Marines, most of whom know only too well the price of conflict?
How To Donate:
Go to the RMA Website www.royalmarinesassociation.org.uk and to the Cockleshell Heroes link, to follow the payment options and also to read all about this historic, epic raid, that has had no equal.
Payments can also be made by post to: The Royal Marines Association, Building 32, Whale Island, Portsmouth, Hants PO2 8ER: Cheques/postal orders made out to "RMA Frankton".
The Frankton Memorial Appeal Patron: Countess Mountbatten of Burma CBE CD JP DL
Vice Patrons: Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope KCB OBE - First Sea Lord Admiral Lord Boyce GCB OBE DL Major General A Salmon CMG OBE - CGRM WO1 (RSM) B A Dawe RM - Corps RSM
Steering Group: Major M D Cavan OBE RM (Chairman) Lieutenant Colonel I W Grant RM - Corps Secretary Major V M Bentinck RM - Corps Historian Operation Frankton Memorial
Thank-you from Major General A Salmon CMG OBE, Commandant General Royal Marines
As always DO NOT under ANY circumstances send monies in any way, shape or form to me, but rather send your donations directly to the Royal Marines Association as detailed above....and please note, any sorry-a*sed Bootneck out there who probably fainted at the mere thought of having to hand over their beer money, well, there's always the house-keeping jar to fall back on, but don't tell the Missus!
And thus the canopy above your head Down to the woodland floor will shed Its million leaves that you may tread More softly now 'midst shades of red
A single, hastily scribbled verse by Daisy W (my Mum) written in pencil on the back of a page torn from a wallpaper sample catalogue circa 1939/1940. She would have been somewhere in her mid-teens.
Autumnal Nettle Silhouettle
The Cliffs Near Church Cove This and the following three shots of various locations on Cornwall's Lizard Peninsular, are all places (amongst others) where I had multiple sightings of Choughs this time around (October 2009). In previous years, I have personally only had far-off sightings of Choughs either above Kynance Cove or as far north as the stretch of coastline between Porthleven and Praa Sands.
....and yes, I do know the difference between Choughs and Jackdaws, even from afar. After all, there have been several times in my dim and distant past when I've been required to nurse injured individuals of both species back to health from illness and/or injury.
Cadgwith Cove ....Taken from the "Todden" and with Kildown Point just out of sight beyond the head.
Early Morning at Kynance Cove ....and taken just prior to Tess and I turning north for the longish trek up to Mullion Cove before heading back inland (mostly across the boggy Downs) to get home in time for tea.
Kennack Sands from Polbream Point ....Looking across to Black Head about five miles distant and Coverack (not visible) another couple of miles beyond that.
It's kind of odd being down in this neck of the woods all by my lonesome (apart from having Tess with me of course) because we've had many a family holiday here over the years and Kennack is where I used to take the kids surfing when they were much younger. In fact, it's my Daughter's favourite place and it's a pity that none of them were able to come with me this time because of other commitments.
Reach for the Sky This is the first photograph I've taken in ages that I like.
Two of Tess (Above and Below) I guess I'm only putting these photos on here as a riposte to the middle-aged lady who came rushing up to me completely out of the blue yesterday to tell me what an unattractive-looking Labrador Tess is and then to ask if she might possibly be a cross-breed of some sort! Mind you, she couldn't talk as there was definitely something about her face that reminded me of a baby Degu I used to look after at the zoo many moons ago!
National Search and Rescue Dog Association
The National Search And Rescue Dog Association is a voluntary organisation responsible for the training of rescue team members and civilians to become handlers of air-scenting search dogs, enabling them to search for missing persons in the mountainous, lowland, rural and urban areas of, in this case, Wales.
I'm giving them a mention here because they are an outstanding organization who continue, despite crippling financial difficulties, to play a vital role in many Search and Rescue (SAR) operations that must be carried out in almost every kind of environment.
Trust me, if you're lying face down in the snow with a broken leg, half way up a mountain while rapidly succumbing to exposure and hypothermia, then there would be one very cold, wet nose you'd be more than grateful to feel on the back of your neck....and the dog's too probably!
Visit their really interesting website at....
After the Harvest Comes the Promise of an Indian Summer
The Forest ....A subtle, living tapestry of infinitely complex interweaving movements, scents and sounds. A place for standing and waiting. A place to be silent and to listen. A place to take your time, always and to give your senses the chance to work in the way that millions of years of evolution meant for them to work.
....but it takes practise, a great deal of practise....and enormous patience....Far more patience, sadly, than most folk have these days.
....and when I tell them this (Those so-called best of the best), They stare back at me with blank expressions. A new generation who listen, but do not hear the incongruent sounds in the forest. Who look, but fail to see what perils lurk within the dappled sunlight and the dancing shadows.
Slaves to their automobiles and satellite TVs. Forever on their knees at the altar of the Holy Trinity....the Mobile Phone, the Laptop and the MP3. ....Wrecked inside the interweb. Seduced by twittering Sister Sirens, Spacebook and Myface. Senses deadened to the world.
But send them anyway they will, So, far far far away, To those mountains on the Moon Unprepared of mind....and ill-equipped in kit. "It'll end in tears my boy", as my mother used to say.
Yet rich they are in hope and mental strength ....and the arrogance of youth. Too much the latter though I fear (for some), To face the ugly truth!
But if I've done or said one thing To help them find a way To do the job and stay alive For just one extra day, Then I can handle all the guilt I feel
....for not being there myself Amidst the politician's mess.
Above and Below....A Crackington Gold-Ringed Dragonfly "Now hang on a minute" I hear you say...."How do you know it's not a Cordulegaster bidentatus?". Well, obviously, the occipital triangle just behind the eyes is yellow and not black plus it has the additional narrow banding on the abdomen not present in C bidentatus. At least, I dare say that such a thing will be "obvious" to the countless, googling, armchair-bound "experts" out there in the ether who apparently take (I'm reliably informed) great delight in drawing attention to my (admittedly) almost trade-mark identification mistakes featured throughout these sites. However, I do think I should explain that there's really nothing for anyone to worry about because we actually have our own, "proper" expert (who rarely needs to google anything) working within the UKNR set-up whose primary remit it is to read through the hurriedly-typed weekly reports and assorted mish-mash of data submitted by we humble rangers and to correct our many mistakes before they are finally sent abroad for analysis. Meanwhile, I eventually managed to photograph this beautiful, but very skittish creature on a warm, sunny late afternoon in mid-September in a hedgerow on the edge of an ancient woodland situated in a valley not far from Crackington Haven, North Cornwall. It was one of a pair. Tess and I had walked a very long way that day and I allowed her to cool off by going for a swim in a ford that we'd discovered en route. She repaid me immediately afterwards by drawing my attention to the Dragonflies.
Ford Popular ....at least it was with Tess, it being a place where she loved to make a splash at the end of a tough day....
"Fetch!" ....This was usually followed by a quick game of fetch-the-stick while off the lead in an adjacent field free of livestock.
"Good Girl!" A chance to play is vitally important for any dog, but especially for one who otherwise works all day. Tess loves to swim and to retrieve sticks and balls and she's never more happy than when she's doing either (or both) no matter how far she's walked or for how long. The week we spent working in the Crackington Haven area of North Cornwall from Widemouth Bay down to Boscastle in mid-September was very productive from a work perspective and we enjoyed fantastic weather as well, but it wasn't entirely without unpleasant incident for Tess and I shall be writing about it in my diary on the .com site. I know such things upset her considerably and so any chance to take her mind off things becomes a priority.
John the Pathfinder "....'s funny? According to this, there should be one right here in front of me!"
Details of our newest recruit, John the Pathfinder, can be found half-way down the "Miscellaneous" page. He actually used to be a Pathfinder once upon a time ago, but has since retired from the military. Recently divorced, he now lives a forsaken and lonely existence within a stone's throw of the sea in Northumberland. He's been taken on as a ranger by the Boss to cover the North-Eastern bit of England, previously omitted from many of our more recent surveys and studies due to a lack of manpower.
North Cornwall, Late August, 2009 Above....the view towards Portreath from my motor-home window during a week spent working away on the North Cornish coast and, below....the view across Porthtowan beach about a mile or so from the site. Once again, I stayed at the relatively small and very relaxing St Agnes Caravan Club site situated at the foot of St Agnes Beacon, having returned to conduct a broad-spectrum late summer wildlife status exercise....the data from which will be used to compare with the data acquired during the week I spent working from the same site in the spring of 2008 then, the plan will be for me to visit again in the spring of 2010 followed by the summer of 2011 and so on. However, this time around also required a fair amount of night-time work, generally involving much stumbling about in the dark as I tried to guess exactly where I was while everyone else slept soundly in their beds. This was always followed by the inevitable long-distance walks during the daytime (though only after I'd snatched a couple of hours sleep in-between). For the latter, I was usually accompanied by my Wife and Daughter who I'd invited along to give them a bit of a break. Needless to say, I shall upload a few of the more "interesting" photos I took as the week progressed as soon as possible.
Female Brimstone on Purple Loosestrife In my 1906 copy of Richard South's "The Butterflies of the British Isles", the author comments....
"The colour of the male is bright sulphur-yellow with a central orange spot on each wing, with that on the hind wing usually the largest....The female is geenish-yellow and is marked similarly to the male....It is probably this insect to which the name 'butter-coloured fly' contracted into 'Butterfly' was first given. Anyway, it is the only species to which the name applies so well"
A Newly-Formed Robin's Pincushion
Chapter Thirty-Two of "Slices" entitled "Brumas" has now been added to the "Slices and General Diary Stuff" page
Common Ragwort A lover of disturbed ground, the poisonous Common Ragwort has been the bane of horses for centuries where it frequently grows in pasture-land churned up by their hooves. It's also the favoured nursery plant of the Cinnabar Moth caterpillar which has learned to absorb its poison as a means of defending itself in both its larval and adult Moth form against insect-eating birds.
Wet, Cold and Seemingly Unable to Cope I know I keep banging on about Bees, but things are going from bad to worse out there. We seemed to get off to a fairly hopeful start in the Spring of 2009, but all the rain we've been getting of late has had a profoundly negative effect upon far too many Bees in just about every kind of habitat.
I've never seen so many distressed-looking Bees and the numbers of dead ones I find (three yesterday and four today for example) simply beggars belief....and it's not just certain types of Bee that are affected, such as Honey Bees, but all the species appear to be suffering!
It's not just a question of Bees suffering in the cold and the wet either, because Bees have always been vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. It's more as if something specific is making them less resistant to things like rain or mite infestations and giving them less chance of survival overall.
It will probably come as a surprise to many that not all Bees are the same, even within the same species....Some are far more active and work much harder than others, while some are simply better and more efficient at what they do. Some have a stronger constitution, while others are more likely to succumb far more easily to such things as persistently inclement weather. In fact, Bees are very like us in that respect. The thing is however, I can't help but feel that something, as yet unidentified, is making them generally weaker across the board and, therefore, less resilient or robust than would normally be the case!
I often just sit and watch them these days and, although it's probably just my imagination, there seems to be less urgency about many of them than there ever used to be, even as little as five years ago. Well, whatever it is that's going on. it's very obvious to me at least that something is very much amiss in the normally ultra-busy world of the humble Bumble Bee and someone somewhere needs to figure out exactly what it is before it's too damn late!
Meanwhile, we keep gathering up all the dead Bees that we find and passing them on to our admin people who, in turn, send them off to our laboratory chappies en France for analysis. So far however, even they've been at a loss to explain what's going on!
The Skipper and the Scabious
The Descent of Man "....No, honestly Cherise, I don't know what's so noble about 'em, these guys had probably never even heard of MacRonalds!"
Well, guess what....I'm in big trouble again. You see, I did this cartoon a few weeks ago for an old academic-type friend of mine who wanted something that he could add to a paper he'd written about the "Social and Cultural Evolution of Modern Man" (it was for some kind of scientific journal with a total circulation of about a hundred or so), but now we're both in the doggy doo-doos, not only for apparently being fattist (people have complained), but for trying to bring a well-known and thoroughly reputable fast-food company into some kind of disrepute.
So, to anyone who I (we) may have offended with my very silly cartoon and its rather puerile and insensitive caption. I would like to say "I'm very sorry". I'd also like to add that in no way do I normally associate MacRonalds or any other fast-food establishment, with anyone being or, indeed, getting fat and that I'm sure any number of scientific tests, were they ever to be carried out, would more than prove that the entire range of foodstuffs served within the hallowed walls of such places has always been and always will be of the highest nutritional standard. In fact, it's practically food for the Gods!
I trust also that, by adding the offending cartoon to my website and exposing its idiocy to upwards of three million people across the world, I further demonstrate the profound and heart-felt sincerity of my words!
Incidentally, the cartoon shown here is the (very) rough and non-coloured-in draught I did prior to producing the finished article, which I no longer have....or even own for that matter.
Female Dark Bush-Cricket Just look at the size of the ovipositor on that thing....Looks like an antique wooden, fire-hardened sabre blade! Meanwhile, if there's one group of creatures that appears to be benefiting from all this climate-change malarkey, then it's the Crickets and Grasshoppers. There seems to be huge numbers of them almost everywhere this year (2009), including a lot more sightings by most of us of some of the scarcer ones and, perhaps more significantly from a climate-change perspective, an increase northwards in the ranges of the more traditionally southern coast-orientated species.
Four Days in July I've added about sixty photos plus captions to the "My Office" page. They represent about 10% of the total number of photos I took while working in three separate counties over a successive four day period in early July 2009 and, due to the huge amount of time it takes to process, edit and upload that many pictures to my websites (let alone adding the stupid captions), it easily demonstrates why I've only ever bothered uploading one or two photos per day on average in the past.
Six Spot Burnet Approaching a Self Heal
Six Spot Burnet on Tall Melilot Ok, there's loads I could say about the increasingly scarce Tall Melilot. When I was a boy, it was almost everywhere, but now it's only to be found here and there and yet, it's flowers are a wonderful magnet for Bees and Butterflies and was once a hugely rich source for wild honey. My Gran frequently mixed the flowers with camphorated spirit to make an infusion which she then used as a soothing wash to bathe the eyes of "Wet" and "Windy", my Uncle Chris the gamekeeper's working Spaniel Dogs, both of whom suffered badly with eye infections in their dotage. Years later in South Devon, I used poultices that I'd made from the Tall Melilot flowers that grew along the banks of the estuary to treat the conker-sized blisters that everyone used to get on their feet from all the long-distance speed-yomping we did, as well as applying them as a balm to ease the severe chafing on our shoulders caused by the straps of our bergens which were inevitably filled with up to 80lbs of kit. Failing that of course, the next best option was to tape those old-style sanitary towels that women used to wear (the ones like miniature padded hammocks) to your shoulders where the straps of your bergen tended to rub the worse. Mind you, it wasn't a good idea to get caught doing it because if any of our beloved instructors found out, they would get really excited and then delight in finally having an excuse to add a couple of house bricks to your kit before swapping your SLR for a GPMG....plus three yards of ammo! Mmm....I guess that sort of thing doesn't happen any more, what with the PC Brigade looking out so enthusiastically for the poor old Bootneck these days and people saying that even Marines have human rights (though not Paras obviously)! After all, the last thing you want is to hurt anyone's feelings when you're meant to be training them to cope with all the crap they'll be up to their necks in on the average battlefield.
"Chicken"....A Rescued Citron-Crested Cockatoo Now looking extremely happy and healthy, Chicken is one of many Birdline UK success stories. Meanwhile, I have a few old Cockatoo anecdotes from the old days that I might get around to adding to these pages one day, including a very funny JM one!
Birdline UK (Registered Charity N0. 1125030)
I think I've mentioned these guys elsewhere on one or other of my websites, but as I was at the Malvern-based Three Counties Show a couple of days ago (19th June) and so were they, I decided to give their highly praiseworthy organization a little plug....
"Birdline Parrot-Rescue was founded in 1992, initially to rescue and care for birds in the Warwickshire area.
Expansion soon became an urgent necessity, resulting in recruiting various people who specialised in all species of birds from Finches to Macaws.
A network of helpers and area co-ordinators, all of whom work from their own homes without payment in order to provide a nationwide structure, was quickly organised, thus permitting the organisation to offer a loving secure home to a wide variety of birds.
Birds are therefore never without a safe home, and are rescued by donation, or collected by an area representative, who then decide where best the bird should be placed until a suitable home can be found.
In past years, Birdline has helped over 1600 birds to find new homes, while during the last year alone Birdline has had over 1,000,000 visits to their main web-site, taken over 30,000 telephone calls for help and advice and aided countless birds and pets that owners cannot look after, either on a short or long-term basis.
Birdline has also assisted with behavioural problems, treated damaged, crippled, mutilated and neglected birds and have formed a strong liaison with many other bird charities, including PPACW. Bonds have also been forged with various police forces, zoos and other rescue organisations, not only in the UK, but in many other countries around the world."
Birdline are now desperately in need of more members who can offer safe houses and foster homes for birds taken into care. If you feel that you might be in a position to help, then please feel free to e-mail them via their website at....
Failing that, I'm sure Birdline UK would be extremely grateful for any amount of financial assistance that you could send their way, no matter how small or insignificant-seeming, as the work they do is incredibly valuable, but enormously expensive to sustain.
A Very Sleepy "Fred" the Ferret
The Ferret Education and Research Trust (Registered Charity No 1116924)
Another very worthwhile organization who had a small stand at the Malven Three Counties Show this year (2009) was the Ferret Education and Research Trust. I've looked after Ferrets myself in the FAD at the zoo in the dim and distant past and my Uncle Chris the gamekeeper had a couple for a while called "Monty" and "Rommel". When homed and treated properly Ferrets can be long-lived and very affectionate and entertaining animals with a sense of mischief on a par with Otters, also members of the Mustelid family, together with Stoats, Weasels and Badgers. Unfortunately however, countless numbers of Ferrets are not treated properly and suffer greatly at the hands of their so-called owners. That's where the Ferret Education and Research Trust come in....
"The Ferret Education & Research Trust is the first dedicated national registered charity within England and Wales which aims to promote the care and welfare of the domesticated ferret. It has strong ties with various other ferret organisations, both nationally and with those operating in a more local capacity.
It was our group intention to establish a charitable cause that would be able to support the fund-raising of other ferret welfares around the UK and also to offer a means to educate and inform the public regarding the plight of this hard-working and much-maligned animal.
As we progressed through 2006 we attended a number of national shows, including the Three Counties Show at Malvern and also the Town & Country Show at Stoneleigh. Both were amazingly successful and we achieved our aims in both fund-raising and education.
In September 2006, after the success of the Town & Country Show, the founders of FERT decided to apply for registered charitable status to further establish its intentions to the public and the ferret community.
On 22nd November 2006, FERT was the first dedicated ferret charity to be awarded registered national status by the Charity Commission.
Our principal aims are....
To promote humane behaviour towards the ferret (Mustela Putorius Furo) and to assure its well-being by giving advice to owners as to its care in sickness and in health.
To promote improved understanding of ferret diseases and other matters relevant to ferret welfare.
To promote improvement of standards of accommodation for ferrets generally and in boarding and welfare facilities in particular.
To advance the education of the public in ferret diseases and medicine."
FERT receives no national or local government funding and I'm sure that if you would like to actively support ferret welfare, then any donation, no matter how small, would be gratefully received. Meanwhile, further information about the Trust can be found on its website at....
Interesting fact about Mustelids....The largest and most ferocious member of the Mustelid family is the Wolverine and so, contrary to popular Hollywood hype designed, as always, to derail public perception, Hugh Jackman, who plays the part of Logan/Wolverine in the X-Men movies, is NOT an avenging WOLF-like anti-hero, but rather an overgrown and very grumpy WEASEL with manefestly advanced insecurity issues!
Extraordinary Flowers The generally warmer, milder climate so familiar to the Southern coast of England seems to encourage local gardeners to try their hand at growing a huge variety of quite exotic-looking plant species. Meanwhile, although I don't know what this particular specimen that was growing quite happily in a South Devonshire garden is called, "Rhubarb and Custard" seems strangely appropriate somehow.
Another Sick Bee I suppose it's because I'm looking for them most of the time now that I'm finding so many sickly-seeming Honey Bees and Bumble Bees. Their behaviour is increasingly out of character and the only way I can think of to describe them at times would be to use words like moribund, torpid or sluggish. It's not just to do with cooler temperatures or protracted spells of heavy rain either because other Bees appear to remain unaffected. It's something else....and it's getting worse by the week! Oddly, I find most of these poorly-looking Bees clinging to Common Comfrey flowers....an effective medicinal plant used in huge quantities in the past by herbalists and healers to treat the wounded on ancient battlefields and, until very recently, as an emergency alternative to modern antibiotics by the likes of forward operating reconnaissance units when their regular supplies of modern medicines had perhaps been exhausted. Similarly useful medicinal-type plants include the likes of Burr, Common Centaury and Buck's-Horn Plantain, but, sadly, the powers that be these days no longer advocate the teaching of such survival techniques for even the most specialist of military units, preferring the exclusive use of broad-spectrum antibiotics instead. Mind you, I guess there's no-one left in the military to teach that kind of thing anyway.
Red Clover Red Clover roots contain a bacteria capable of turning nitrogen in the air into salts essential for the plant's growth and it is now possible to transfer this nitrogen-fixing bacteria to crops such as wheat, thus saving farmers in some parts of the world a small fortune on fertilizers, some of which can be harmful to the environment. Meanwhile, Clover has always been valuable to livestock farmers as a source of fodder and to crop farmers as an enrichment plant when ploughed into the soil. The Clover's principal pollinator however, is the Bumble-Bee and if Bumble-Bee populations continue to fall as drastically as they currently are, then the humble Red Clover may soon become a very rare sight indeed. Interestingly, it's possible that I actually owe my life to this plucky little flower of field and roadside verge because my Gran (the herbalist and of whom you'll read much within the pages of my websites) force-fed me with copious amounts of her home-made and very sour Clover syrup when I had a desperately bad bout of whooping cough as a boy....not to mention her insistence upon bleeding me with Leeches a couple of times a week as well! As for the near legendary Four-Leaved Clover, I once found two on the back lawn of our prefab when I was about nine years old and promptly transferred them to an empty box of Co-operative matches, where they've remained, though somewhat dry and shrivelled, together with a lock of Malcolm's, my adopted brother's hair, ever since. For reasons that I can't recall, about ten years later I began keeping the matchbox with its "lucky" cargo in the belly of my acoustic guitar (where it remains to this day) and I swear that it's the principal reason why a very young Sandy Denny offered to take me out for a coffee one otherwise grey and drizzle-besieged afternoon....and I accepted. Mind you, I know it may be hard to believe, but I wasn't always the fat, ugly and generally toothless monstrosity to women that I am today!
A Broadway Stay....Featured on the "My Office" Page Tess and I spent three and a half days at the Caravan Club's excellent Broadway site in deepest neighbouring Worcestershire this week (mid-May) and, although it was Tess's first real outing in the van, she just accepted it as an even bigger walk than the normal ones. Picturesque Broadway is only a few miles up the road from home, so I was never more than an hour's drive from my wife if she needed me. The weather meanwhile, was either brilliantly sunny or p***ing down, but Tess and I managed to get lots done as we walked for miles and miles along endless country lanes, through woods and across open, way-marked farmland. The trip was good experience for Tess and something she'll be having to do a lot more of now that my wife is beginning to regain her strength and independence. I've now added more photographs of our little adventure on the "My Office" page of this site plus "appropriate" text.
Candy Stripe Phlox I like to grow a reasonable amount of Phlox in the garden because the flowers are such a favourite of Butterflies and Bees. They can also grow so prolifically that they begin to take over entire sections of your garden if you're not careful....A bit like Nettles and Buttercups if, like me, you like to mix wild stuff in with the cultivated. I think I've mentioned elsewhere about the time I helped one of the Cotswold's A-list celebrities to remove a couple of Roe Deer from her mini-estate. They'd managed to find a way in, but had almost certainly been attracted in the first place by the swathes of Phlox flowers that she'd encouraged to take over one corner of a large side garden she'd devoted specifically to wildlife. It's a fairly well known fact however, that Deer love to eat Phlox and will often risk life and limb to get at it. I also noticed at the time that she was beginning to experience a bit of trouble with Rabbits on her property, but then Rabbits are also very partial to a good Phlox when they can get it!
Colt's Foot I'm fairly certain that I've gone on about Colt's foot elsewhere on my websites, so I'll only add a little bit of information here.... Flowering as early as February and even during the hardest of winters, the merest hint of sunshine is likely to encourage this plucky little member of the Daisy family to burst into flower and add one of the year's first splashes of colour to an otherwise barren-seeming landscape. It's called Colt's foot simply because the shape of the leaves look a bit like the outline of a horse's hoof. However, the leaves don't actually appear until the plant itself has finished flowering, an unusual phenomenon that ultimately resulted in the plant being given its alternative country name of "Son-Before-Father" Meanwhile, it can be a very useful plant in a survival situation as both the very long hairs on the seed parachutes (see photo below) and the down found on the underside of the leaves make excellent fire-starting tinder when dry. According to the excellent "Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Britain", the leaves were once dried, crushed and smoked by asthma sufferers to provide effective relief from their condition, while juice extracted from the leaves was considered to be a cure for coughs. In fact, the plant's scientific name of Tussilago farfara provides a clue to this in that Tussilago comes from the Greek word "tussis" meaning "cough". I believe that extract of Colt's Foot is still used in various homeopathic remedies to this day. I suppose I could also happen to mention my Gran for the gazillionth time because she used to add a distillation of Colts Foot to my Uncle Bill's cider of an evening to help break up the excessive amounts of thick, tarry phlegm forming in his lungs caused by him being such a heavy smoker. She always made sure she didn't add too much however because she said that Colt's Foot remedies could be bad for the liver! Incidentally, who's that guy from Kew Gardens doing all the natural remedy stuff on TV at the moment? Calls himself an Ethno Botonist or somesuch pretentious cr*p. Well, that so and so has simply nicked all my Gran's remedies, added a few scientific names and formulas to give them 21st Century credibility and claimed them as his own....W*nker! Colt's Foot Seed Head
Dear common flower that grow'st beside the way Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold First pledge of blithesome May Which children pluck and, full of pride, uphold High-hearted buccaneers, o'erjoyed that they An Eldorado in the grass have found Which not the rich earth's ample round May match in wealth, thou art more dear to me Than all the prouder summer-blooms may be
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)
Dandelion Seed Head
Cold lie the daisy banks Clothed but in green Where, in the days agone Bright hues were seen Wild pinks are slumbering Violets delay True little Dandelion Greeteth the May
Pale little Dandelion In her white shroud Heareth the angel-breeze Call from the cloud Tiny plumes fluttering Make no delay Little winged Dandelion Soareth away
Helen Barron Bostwick (1826 - ?)
Even as a boy, I enjoyed reading lots of old poetry about Nature and stuff because....well, I just did....and still do. Apart from anything else, I think it's interesting to compare Nature's calendar of way back when with that of today. For example, the verses appearing above are extracts taken from poems written well over a hundred years ago and, like most poetry about Dandelions of that time, May is the month most closely associated with their first appearance of the year. Things have changed in recent years however and these days the humble Dent-de-Lion is to be found in full bloom as early as the end of March. Meanwhile, late May or the first week of June would once have been the earliest time of year to see Dandelion heads gone to seed (even as little as thirty years ago), whereas I took the photo shown above in mid-April!
Mite-Infested Red-Tailed Bumble-Bee Tess is showing a remarkable ability to find Bumble-Bee nests and is always drawn to foraging individuals. She drew my attention to the Red-Tail shown in the photographs which I would otherwise have missed and, since she gets a treat every time she draws my attention to Bumble-Bees on the ground, she's always keen to discover more. I'm afraid that I don't recognise the species of what I assume is some kind of Mite on this particular Bee, but I do know that it's not the devastatingly harmful Varrua Mite which currently cutting a swathe of destruction amongst Honey Bees on both sides of the Atlantic. There are several species of Mite that are relatively harmless to the Bees they infest and simply use them to hitch rides from nest to nest where they feed on Bees wax and various tiny insects and invertebrates. I counted no less than 105 Mites on this Bee alone which is an excessive number that was almost certainly affecting the Bee's ability to fly. At first I thought they were engorged Varroa Mites, but I was able to remove all of them with the point of my knife without too much difficulty and without harming the Bee itself, so I don't think that they had punctured the Bee's "skin" in order to draw off its bodily fluids. It took about half an hour to do and then I released the seemingly unperturbed Bee to carry on about its business. Strangely, I'm seeing far more of these Mite-infested Bees just lately (particularly Red-Tails) and it's yet another thing that Bees in the UK are having to cope with on an ever-increasing basis.
A few Bee facts (courtesy of the Bumble-Bee Conservation Trust).... Until recently, Britain & Ireland had twenty-seven native species of bumble-bee. Unfortunately, three species have already become nationally extinct. A further seven are now designated UKBAP species in direct recognition of their precarious situation. In total fifteen species have undergone major range contractions. Some of these species face imminent extinction unless urgent landscape-scale action is taken.
Bumble-bees are major pollinators of the vast majority of our wildflowers. If they continue to disappear these plants will set less seed, resulting in sweeping changes to the countryside which may then become dominated by a completely different suite of plants. At the very least, our beautiful countryside would lose its colour forever! Additionally, many rare plants will disappear altogether and there is firm evidence that this process is already under-way. These changes will undoubtedly have catastrophic knock-on effects for many other types of wildlife dependent on such plants.
Bumble-bees are vitally important "keystone" species and they should be an urgent conservation priority. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case!
Bumble-bees are also of enormous commercial importance. Many arable and horticultural crops depend on bumble-bees for pollination to varying degrees. Some, like oilseed rape, can set adequate seed without bumble-bees, provided that there are sufficient honeybees (also in drastic decline), but other crops, including broad, field and runner beans plus a whole range of soft-fruit crops are almost totally dependent on them. Without Bees, there would be little or no crop to harvest.
In total, the value of Europe's insect pollinators is estimated at €14.2 billion per annum!
It's an alarming fact that, in some regions where fields tend to be larger than average and there are subsequently fewer hedgerows (in which queens forage in Spring and build their nests), crop yields are already falling dramatically.
Number 999....The Butterbur For another shot of this extraordinary member of the Daisy family as well as a tale of goat's butter, a very large pig and an awful lot of mud, see the "Arty-Farty" page.
Gone Fishing The distant sound of wildfowl (mostly Teal and Wigeon), the smell of wood smoke drifting across the lake on the breeze and the faint lapping of the water amongst the skeletal reeds all added to the scene as a solitary fisherman on the opposite shore cast his line into the lake for the hundredth time that day. Spring may well be on its way, but, for me, Winter has its moments too.
RSPB Titchwell Marsh Appeal For details see the "Coastal" page (Ariel photo....RSPB Picture Library)
Name That Tune Arranged like notes on a page of sheet music, this small group of Great Reedmace couldn't help but catch my eye. However, it was the Victorian artist, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's mistake when he added Reedmace to his famous painting and then called it "Moses in the Bulrushes" that has led to most of the UK's population still calling them Bulrushes to this day!
Windblown Seeds Packed together as tightly as something that's packed together really tightly, the seeds of this Reedmace female flower head will soon be blown far and wide by the wind, but there was a time not so long ago that country folk would use them to stuff their mattresses.
A Busy Time February through to May is just about our busiest and most work-intensive time of year. We’re all out from dawn to dusk almost every single day, covering (almost entirely on foot) as many miles as we can physically manage in as wide a range of habitats as possible, including ancient mixed, coniferous and deciduous woodland, farmland, moorland, coastal, wetland, flood plain, mountain and urban.
We take thousands of photographs, scribble countless notes, make little marks on maps, draw macabre diagrams, collect root, stem, bark, soil, sand and water samples plus a host of other things far too numerous to mention, but all of which have to be thought about, located, acquired, itemised, listed, categorised, uploaded, edited, downloaded, batched and transported ready for analysis by our laboratory team in France.
It’s as much about the “feel” of things out there in the countryside as anything, so reports have to be written on a daily basis. It’s also about detecting as many of the thousands of subtle changes taking place in the Natural World as possible. We’re even required to record local changes in the weather, such as sudden rises or falls in temperature and/or air pressure or alterations in wind speed and direction.
Basically, we record and collate as much of just about everything and anything we come across as is humanly possible.
We’re even out and about two or three nights a week as well, equipped with all manner of things, such as military spec NVE, Bat detectors and home-made Moth traps....and all because that’s when an entirely different wildlife shift takes over, one that we can’t afford to ignore.
Tess meanwhile, will only accompany me every other day for the time being because she’s hardly more than five months old and fifteen to twenty miles a day is too much for her physically just yet and, although walking is low impact and I'm not stupid enough to encourage her to tear around after a stick, a ball or a frisbee while she's still so young and her joints are still growing and developing, I don’t want to be the cause of her having joint problems in later life, especially in the hips.
So, by the time we get to May, we're all pretty much kn*ckered, but that's also when I happen to begin my annual round of Skylark walks!
Winter Reflections and the Coot That Walks on Water
"Tufty" the Snowman Six inches of snow or less in the South and South-East of England and the entire country grinds to a galloping standstill...No buses, no trains, no school, no roads open, no clue! I just wonder what would happen if we got the same sort of weather they get in Northern Scandinavia, Eastern Europe or Canada. The British don't do snow particularly well.
....and what was Boris Johnson, the Lord Mayor of London's excuse for not having enough gritter lorries to cover even one tenth of the capital resulting in a £150m loss of income to shops and businesses? Well, according to him, spending £5m - £10m pounds on setting up an adequate gritting provision is pointless when dealing with the kind of severe weather that only occurs every twenty years on average!
Meanwhile, my Daughter was sent home early from school and had time therefore, to create "Tufty the Snowman".
Tufty update, this just in...Tufty the Snowman was beheaded by a person or persons unknown sometime today. The snowman's creator suspects that the sultanas used for the eyes may well have been the motive behind the attack. Meanwhile police are keen to question a young, vanilla fudge-coloured Labrador seen in the vicinity during the afternoon.
Chapter Thirty-One "Seaside Donkey" has now been added to "Slices" on the "Slices and General Diary Stuff" page
Rime Frost Thick low cloud descended on the Cotswold Hills again today, but this time it brought with it a band of dangerously cold air (around minus 15 by all accounts). These bands of cold are an occasional feature of the Cotswolds, but are usually short-lived locally as they tend to weave in and around the many hills and valleys according to variable wind direction.
After yesterday’s slightly odd weather, I suspected that we might get such a thing today and decided to leave Tess at home just in case...as well as to give her a much-deserved break (she didn’t see it that way however and apparently cried and howled at the front door for nearly twenty minutes after I left home this morning (9th January)! I’m glad I did leave her behind though because I ended up spending most of the day “immersed” in cold air for the simple reason that the wind speed was only about 2 or 3 and the band of cold remained in the area for longer than would normally be the case.
What you can see on the branches of the trees in the pictures above, below and opposite, is “rime” frost rather than “hoar” frost. Rime is ice that is formed when a water-saturated breeze or wind blows across the landscape, touching everything in its path. It makes things like branches look as though they’ve been dipped repeatedly in icing sugar and usually only occurs when temperatures are extremely low and the air is very moist (as it is in low cloud conditions).
Hoar frost is slightly different in that it occurs when water vapour touches a very cold surface and freezes on it instantly. This can happen to the branches of bushes and trees which will become covered in ice crystals that can grow to look like tiny jagged fingers of ice.
Now you know why people avoid me at parties!
Anyway, I was wearing all the right gear and there wasn’t a problem. I did manage to get a few photos however, though they don’t do the real thing any justice I’m afraid. It’s one of Nature’s oddities I think and it’s quite surreal to actually see your surroundings gradually turn into such a ghostly landscape in such a short space of time!
The Village and a Snow-Filled Sky My house is just visible through the trees.
The Top End of the Village
A Tree So Old and a Sky of Gold ...and telegraph wires from a story told....er, since the dawn of time! (Clearly, two tablets taken three times a day simply aren't enough!)
Into the Gap Kander gathered together his few meagre possessions from beside the still warm ashes of last night's camp-fire and placed them in his saddle-bags. He slid his sword into its scabbard and hung it from his belt, pausing momentarily to stare thoughtfully at the gap between two very large and gnarly old Oak trees that marked the entrance to the laughingly named "Little Wood".
Mmm...The old warrior knew full well that even on horseback and without any "diversions", it would be at least three days and two long nights before he'd emerge once again into open countryside
....and then there were all the rumours thereabouts. Grossly exaggerated (probably) stories of certain so-called "Night Shadows" that were said to glide amongst the trees at night and stalk the unwary! There was talk too of travellers going missing in Little Wood (including a high percentage of young, virginal maidens by all accounts) who dared to wander abroad amongst the trees after sunset for goodness only knows what idiotic reasons!
Kander reined in his imagination before it had chance to run amok through the undergrowth of his mind and then called "To me Tag!". At the sound of his name, a rangy, flea-bitten old hound looking something like a half-starved wolf experiencing an improbably bad hair day pricked up its ears and immediately lolloped across to the old man's side.
With far more exertion than it used to take, Kander heaved his travel-weary bones onto the back of his horse and urged the animal forward with a softly spoken "G'won then Jen, into the gap we go".
Meanwhile, from a tree-line on a hilltop barely half a mile away, two others looked on as the three travelling companions entered the wood and disappeared from view. Pausing only to glance at each other, they stepped out into the open and followed after....
(Excerpt taken from my "very" short novel, "The Rheumatic Warrior")
Cotswold Water Park and Thames Footpath Hike Stronger and more resilient by the hour, Tess seemed to think nothing of the seven mile walk I took her on today (20th December) around several of the Cotswold Water Park lakes (there are more than 130 of them in total to choose from) and along a stretch of the River Thames close to its source near Cricklade.
She's very bright and learning fast (though she does still pull a little on the lead). The best thing so far is that she has already learned to sit and wait "almost" patiently for me to finish messing about taking photographs, making notes or drawing little diagrams every fifty yards or so as we make our way along (something that certain others in our household and who shall remain nameless, have never learned to do)!
I have a friend with a small-holding (no euphemism intended) and she is happy for me to take Tess along to her tiny farm in the New Year to introduce her to the various sheep, pigs and goats that roam about the place and, hopefully, enable her to get thoroughly used to them. Tess has already mastered sit, stay, roll-over, fetch, drop and all the usual stuff and she's still only less than sixteen weeks old. She reminds me so much of my old dog Chloe that it's slightly unsettling at times!
Tree Silhouette What was strange the day I took this photograph just across the road from where I live, was the countless number of little cotton wool balls of cloud making their way quite rapidly across the sky. In fact, they were more like the clouds that children draw than proper clouds!
Vestige of a By-Gone Age (and a thought for all those who will feel hopelessly compelled to rush around this Christmas in order to buy stuff).... The wrought ironwork connecting these magnificent old gate posts is totally exquisite and of the highest quality craftsmanship, but it is also all that now remains of the original gates themselves.
As for the tree...the total incongruity of its position adds, not just a sense of mystery, but of loss as well...the loss of an altogether different age when life was just a little bit slower and standards were significantly higher. It was a time when the quality of workmanship was much more important too and people cared enough to take a little more time to do things properly and with greater meaning...and in a way that spoke of strength, stability and endurance.
Now the substantial has been replaced by the tardily superficial....the notion of endurance by the vacuous, quick-fix demands of a disposable society. People have lost any real sense of permanence in their lives because they surround themselves with vast amounts of predominantly tacky, low quality things rather than enrich their lives with smaller amounts of quality items!
Sadly and most importantly, it's the people who supposedly matter in their lives who end up suffering the most as they hurtle along in their obsessive, never-ending pursuit of career advancement and commodity acquisition!
Oh well, that's what I think anyway.
Another Golden Sunset This time taken over Chedworth Woods
Winter Walk Part of the "A Sterner Test" series featured on the "Blue and Purple" page of www.wildliferanger.com
Golden Sunset Taken at home last night (21st November) from an upstairs bedroom window and a completely different sunset to the red and purple effort of the night before!
"I Love My Squeaky Turtle!"
The Bird in the Tree I saw a little leaf High up in a tree And behind it was a bird Who was looking down at me "Hello there" I did call As I waved my hand at it Then it flew down on my head And promptly had a...very nice chat with me!
by Daisy W (my Mum) 1997
"Sniffy McWhiffy" "So, if I stick my wet, snotty nose that I've just been using to sniff my own bottom, on the glass part of that circular sticky-outy thing on the front of your camera, will that help at all?"
Autumn/Winter Glow It looks very nice, but it's practically Winter now (10th November) and the vast majority of leaves are STILL clinging to the trees!
Arial Synchronicity This is just part of one of the larger murmurations of Starlings (around 20,000 birds) that showed up today to perform one of Nature's most spectacular aerial displays of mass coordinated flying prowess that you could hope to witness anywhere. In fact, there were at least five times as many birds altogether (it can be double that), but my wife and I had to wait initially for the pouring rain to ease off a bit because the birds were preferring to head for the ground in a nearby field, where they stood, more or less motionless, just staring at each other and making very little sound....which is incredibly uncharacteristic for Starlings during these predominantly autumnal occasions. However, as soon as the rain had pretty much stopped, up they went again to do their thing with a bit more enthusiasm this time, before ultimately returning to earth in a Starling cacophony of high volume chattering and excited shrieks!
Remember Remember.... ....the fifth of November....the day a black guy became the 44th president of the United States of America and the people of the World experienced a truly tangible sense of hope for the first time since another utterly compelling and personable young man with vision took centre stage as the most powerful politician on Earth way back in the 1960s. That man,as I'm sure you know (or possibly even remember) was John F Kennedy and he too was a charismatic figure capable of capturing the hearts and minds of billions of people across the world just as Obama has done over the last few weeks.
Now I guess that only time will tell whether or not Barak Obama really does have the depth of character and the breadth of determination he'll need if he's ever going to deliver on his many and various promises of"change for the better". Yet I believe that we are all defined in this world by the iron in our deeds and not just by the resonance of our words....and I'm equally sure that Obama will find it very tough going as millions of people throughout the world wait for (and will no doubt expect) something closer to a miracle from the man!
Of course, it's Bonfire Night here in the UK as well and my daughter,delighted by Obama's win, thought she might be able to spell out the letters "B" and "O" for "Barak Obama" using a couple of sparklers while I took a photo on a slow shutter speed. However, she couldn't quite manage to trace the "B "and the "O" side by side at exactly the same time...Well, I guess it's not as easy as you might think and although our sparklers were really bright, they were far too short-lived....but then I suppose you could say at least the thought was there as she did her level best to celebrate, in her own little way, a day that I know millions of young people just like her in countries everywhere are sensing as truly momentous....and not just in terms of American social and political history, but with regard to the social and political history of the world for possibly decades to come....Let's hope they're right! (Copied across from my 5th November diary entry on www.wildliferanger.com)
Nightshift ....and the darkest hour is just before dawn
More Frampton Reflections
Tess Eat, sleep, pee and poo....Eat, sleep, pee and poo....Eat, sleep, pee and poo....and the puppy's almost as bad! There are more Tess pictures on the "Blue and Purple" page on www.wildliferanger.com
Batsford Arboretum I took my wife and daughter for a stroll around the beautiful Batsford Arboretum near Morton-in-Marsh yesterday (14th October). Sadly, it was very overcast most of the time and rained occasionally, but both my daughter and I took lots of pictures anyway and I shall soon be adding some of them to my other website www.wildliferanger.com
Silk Wood The National Arboretum at Westonbirt, is divided into two main parts, the "Old Arboretum", dating back to the 1850s and "Silk Wood", large sections of which date back to the 13th Century. We spent about three hours this visit, walking and taking photographs in Silk Wood.
Golds and Russets Huge banks of golds and russets were gradually replacing the multiple shades of green and I found myself wishing more and more that I could do it all at least some justice with my camera!
Westonbirt Arboretum Perfect weather....bright sunshine, blue skies and enough breeze to stir the tops of the trees and rustle the leaves, making our Autumn visit to Westonbirt an unforgettable, full-on sensory experience. We went on a Friday as well, so it wasn't too busy!
My Wife a Long Time Ago Taken with my old Kodak Instamatic camera in what I think was Southampton, but she says it's Plymouth....and since she's the one who's always right when it comes to remembering stuff and I'm the one with a blancmange for a brain, I'm not going to argue! Meanwhile, that's the smile that took my breath away the first time I saw it....and it still does if I'm perfectly honest!
About Two Or Three Years Later My wife had just become the youngest ward sister ever in the history of the Area Health Authority as well as being named "Medical Nurse of the Year" a short while before that.
I was so proud of her, but notice all the paraphernalia they used to have pinned to their uniforms in those days (the solid silver belt buckle by the way, is more than a hundred years old)!
Nowadays of course, they only carry pens, scissors and an ID badge...They don't even have the hat, the sleeve-cuffs or the belt any more. I guess it's for the best though, if only because, over the years, my wife has been, kicked, punched, knocked to the ground, had her wrist broken and even stabbed in the face with a pen by maggot-scum patients....most of whom were completely p*ssed or totally high on drugs!
Things have got so bad these days that they even have security guards on the wards sometimes. Mind you, the nurses just get on with it because it's what they do! They don't get paid any extra for it though!
The Delicate Touch
Men of Iron with Hearts of Gold ....and Knees of Ice!
We've got a postie who likes to wear his Bermuda shorts all year round, come rain, wind, snow or....rain! You can see him every morning with his cheery smile and bewildered expression as he heads along the road, delivering the post (often to the correct address), knees flapping in the wind! Yes, he's a crazy kind of guy, but that's not the half of it!
Now he, together with a postie friend of his (I'll call the two of them Phil and John for the sake of argument, but only because it happens to be their names) are planning to cycle from John O'Groats, situated all the way up there at the very tippy-top of Scotland, right the way down to Land's End at the very bottom of England....and left a bit (as you look at the map)! That's 1,406 km by road (874 miles in real money)....and they wont be allowed to use their stabilisers either!
But WHY? Why are they doing such an extraordinary thing along the main highways and byways of Britain?
Well, apart from the fact that they're obviously a few stamps short of a post office, they'll be setting off on their epic cycle-ride on the weekend of the 4th and 5th October 2008 and will be hoping to complete the journey within 10 days, but while neither of them could ever be considered an accomplished cyclist in any way, shape or form (unless you count their jobs as postmen), they are still willing to give up their time (and annual holiday leave) to raise as much money as they possibly can for "LINC", the Leukaemia and Intensive Chemotherapy Fund based at Cheltenham General Hospital!
Now, I don't know about you, but I think that people like Phil and John represent a very special breed and deserve all the help and support that the rest of us lazy so and sos can possibly give them! So, if you'd like to make a small (or extremely large) donation to their cause, then you can do so by going straight to their bona-fide website at....
There's even a picture of the dynamic duo featured there somewhere, but don't worry, it's nothing like the one used on Crimewatch UK! Alternatively, you might prefer to make a donation directly to LINC itself (via my very own LINC link) at....
....but whatever you do, DO NOT send anything to me as I'm nothing to do with it!
It would be totally brilliant if just a few of you reprobates out there in the ether could find it in your hearts to donate a couple of quid/Euros/Dollars or whatever loose change you happen to have in your pockets to help these guys out.
LINC itself works extraordinarily hard to improve the care of some very poorly patients of all ages from Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, East Powys and South Worcestershire who are receiving intensive chemotherapy at Cheltenham Hospital and their current objective is to raise £1million pounds to endow a leukaemia/lymphoma research post at Cheltenham. This would also help raise the profile of their haematology unit by the nth degree and guarantee that they continue to attract the highest quality staff. This, in turn, would help to ensure that the level of care provided there remains second to none!
I'm sure you'll be delighted to know that the ride was a total success and completed without any major mishaps and that Phil and John have (so far) managed to raise more than £2,000 for LINC!
Common House Spider So, I'm guessing that this guy has never heard of Gillette's new Mach 3 GII Contour-Plus M3 Fusion Power-Blade Turbo-Excell shaving system....It's the best a Spider can get you know....Unless that is, he uses a Bic disposable like me and makes it last at least three months!
Female Darter I'm assuming that this is the female Common Darter, but the females in particular of the various resident and migrant species of Darter are incredibly difficult to tell apart sometimes, even for the Dragonfly specialists! Interestingly I spotted a magnificent and seemingly tireless Brown Hawker plus a Hairy Hawker and a Gold-Ringed Dragonfly all within ten minutes of taking this photograph! Unfortunately however, I couldn't get anywhere near any of them to get pictures.
Teasel Tower This reminds me of that tower....You know the one....Designed by that guy who did the other one as well for the city in thingummy....Some time ago now it was.
Hibiscus Lavender Chiffon
The Eternal Koi Guardians of the Celestial Golden Coins ....or who knows....maybe it's just a reflection in a pond!
Mangalitza Pig ....or "Mozzarella" Pig according to my Daughter! Remember the Lincolnshire "Curly Coat" Pig...the one that became extinct in the early 1970s, about a year before the formation of the UK's excellent "Rare Breeds Survival Trust"? Well, that's what Mangalitzas remind me of a bit. Anyway, I'm pretty sure I remember reading that Mangalitzas were only imported to the UK for the first time in 2006 and that there are three distinct varieties...the "Blonde", the "Swallow-Tail" and this one, which is the "Red"....but I could easily be wrong as I am with so many things! Mmm....Mozzarella? Isn't that a cheese made from Mosquito milk?
Milking Time I watched as this Worker Ant repeatedly rubbed the abdomen of this Peach-Potato Aphid (a major vector of virus diseases by the way) until it pulled back its cornicles (I think that's what those little horn-like things are called) and excreted a tiny droplet of honeydew (look closely and you should be able to see it). I've noticed many Ants in my garden this summer actually carrying "cow" Aphids. I think that's because they're taking them below ground to protect them from all the rain we're having. Ants absolutely love honeydew and you can often see excesses of it on plants like a silvery-grey coating (as in the photo). Sometimes it appears black, but that's a type of fungus growing on it. These Aphids are in my apple tree and I can always tell they're there because they cleverly try to protect themselves from the elements by rolling the leaves into a tube.
Round 'em Up, Head 'em In While the Workers were preoccupied with relieving these little Black Bean Aphids of their honeydew, small units of Soldier Ants (note the larger, flatter head and the stronger jaws) rounded up any strays, coralling them into more manageable-sized groups. Occasionally, a single soldier would gather an Aphid gently in its jaws and carry it off to the nest.
Common Blue Damselfly Thank-you Dr S (PhD et al), for your recent, though rather abrupt-sounding and profoundly discourteous communication, but yes, I do happen to know all about the "Fly" rule....The one that states that if an insect is a true fly, such as a House-Fly, Snipe-Fly, Hover-Fly or Trouser-Fly, then the "fly" part is hyphenated or made altogether separate, but that if it's not a proper fly, then the "fly" part is included in the rest of the name, such as Damselfly, Dragonfly, Butterfly or Mayfly....The trouble is, Dr S (PhD et al), I'm just not anally-obsessive enough to feel even the remotest of needs to get it absolutely right every single time!
Furry Buzz-Ball Someone said that this is one of the quite rare Bees, but as they're all getting increasingly rare almost by the day, I guess it doesn't matter quite so much! This one was drawn to the Water Mint flowers growing on a Gloucestershire water margin. I could smell the plant's sickly-sweet aroma from several metres away and well before I actually saw them. Rubbing a leaf or two onto your boots and trousers releases an almost overpowering scent by the way, which is useful for masking your own scent the next time you're being hunted by tracker dogs!
Attempting to Naturalise? I've seen these gorgeous purple beauties growing in many a private garden over the years, particularly in the South-West, but I noticed several of them this month (August 2008) for the first time ever, blooming quite happily in a few sunlit, out of the way places not far from the North Cornwall coast path....and a significant distance from any cultivated gardens! Of course, there's always the possibility that someone actually planted them there, but I'd say that it's unlikely in view of the fact that all but one of the locations was virtually inaccessible!
Er....? I have no idea what species of spider this is, but I saw this one and the one below within two days of each other doing their spidery stuff in woodland undergrowth earlier this month (August 2008), just a few miles from Padstow on the north Cornish coast. They were quite small (about half the size of my little finger nail), but were extremely quick and agile....I watched as the unfortunate Hover Fly below was ensnared and paralysed to the point of complete immobility in less than thirty seconds! Their MO seemed to be quite simple (and probably very effective because of it)....Spin a few strands of sticky, trip-wire-like web at strategic points around and about your chosen hiding place (this one had opted to lie in wait on the underside of a nearby leaf) and then just sit there until your next meal (size apparently irrelevant) wanders by and manages to get one of its feet tangled up in your simple, but highly effective trap system....Then all you need to do is strike with the speed of a predatory spider! Interestingly (and like Daddy Long-leg and Spitting Spiders), these guys only appeared to have six eyes instead of the usual eight.
"Two-Tone" the Blackbird Devoted to the point of exhaustion, Two-Tone the Blackbird has fulfilled every one of his responsibilities as a husband and parent to the nth degree. From March, right through to the end of July, he's thought of nothing else but the welfare of his mate and the youngsters he helped bring into such a totally unforgiving world. Now, he's a mere shadow of his former self and I'd guess that he's probably lost as much as 25% of the weight he was in early Spring!
Flesh Fly (Above and Below) Despite being a lover of all things carrion, this extremely common species of fly doesn't actually lay its eggs in dead stuff. Instead, the female carries and hatches her eggs inside her own body and then gives live birth to her young. This species is also the reason why it's not always a good idea to pick and eat wild Blackberries in September, but as I've talked about that elsewhere, I shan't bother repeating myself here. Oh well, you know the old saying...."It's an ill wind that gathers too many cooks on a rolling bird in the hand"!
Love the Camera and the Camera Will Love you I suspect that she could probably see her own reflection in the camera lens and stood there for ages, tapping it gently from time to time with her beak.
Common Green Grasshopper It certainly wasn't easy to get this shot....I had to be on my hands and knees in the middle of a stinging-nettle patch for at least twenty minutes and, although this little character didn't hop, skip or jump away while I was trying to take the picture, it was very adept at rotating itself around the very thick grass stem it was on in order to always be on the opposite side and well away from the camera! Now, as anyone who's ever tried their hand at macro photography will tell you, it's not particularly helpful if your camera needs to be no more than a centimetre or two away from your subject and the little rat-bag keeps moving about....and especially if it's behaving like the insect equivalent of a nightclub pole-dancer!
Fly I've just read an article claiming that 200 million years ago, some species of fly were the size of a small rats....That's about the size of the one above as it appears in the picture! Mmm....I guess in that case, it probably wouldn't have been a good time to invent the windscreen!
Southern Hawker or Common Hawker....Male or Female? As with the blue and black Damselflies and the Red Darters, correctly identifying Hawker Dragonflies can be very tricky. I spotted this wonderful creature (about 6cm in length) very close to the brand-new wildlife pond that my Daughter and I have just created in the garden, but it wont have emerged from there unless the larvae somehow managed to arrive tucked inside the root system of one of the water plants when we added them to the pond. Oh, my money's on a female Common Hawker by the way, but I could easily be wrong!
God must have looked back on the day that He, She or It came up with the idea of Dragonflies and Damselflies as an extremely good day....As the day that one of the most remarkable pieces of bio-engineering in the history of life on Planet Earth was created. Mind you, God must have equally regretted deciding to knock-off early that Friday lunchtime, leaving the first-year apprentices in the Creation Department with a whole afternoon of mischief-making ahead of them as they churned out disaster after disaster....from Mosquitoes to the 1980s, from Midges to Reality TV, from dog cr*p and Religion to lawyers and politicians....Oh....and let's not forget the human knee-joint while we're at it....Who in the name of all that's eternal would have been spiteful and/or malicious enough to come up with such a totally stupid design as that?
Maroon and Orange
"James the Pilot" Added to the "Miscellaneous" Page
"Mauve" I've been doing a lot of writing lately, so haven't had an enormous amount of spare time to add to the journal on my websites....though I do always make sure I keep the hand-written one up to date! Anyway, the upshot of it is, I've spent the time writing a medium-length story instead that I've chosen to call "Mauve", though you'd have to read it to understand why.
It's set in the "here and now" and tackles that desperately weary old topic based on the question....what would happen if Jesus Christ was alive today and living right here amongst us? The difference with my story however, is that he's a "Hoodie" and only sixteen years old. He lives on a fictional multi-cultural council estate somewhere in North London with his mum and two younger sisters and, through no fault of his own, already has a criminal record! The family live on income support and "JC" (that's all he's ever called in the story) goes to a bottom-of-the-barrel Comprehensive school (when he's not sciving off to doss around in the local park that is....Oh and he's an Arsenal supporter....but then, nobody's perfect!
"JC" never knew his dad and his mum flatly refuses to talk about him for some strange reason, but the main elements of the story revolve around the enormous demands placed upon him, firstly by the persistently self-destructive nature of his overly-active hormones and secondly, by his total inability to deal with the inner turmoil/conflict stemming from his nagging suspicion that he's not only somehow slightly "different" to other people, but that he's destined to do great things! Then there are the "ups and downs" of his feelings towards the opposite sex (especially the unapproachable seventeen year-old Mary McGladdlin....Senior Siren of the Upper Sixth)! Add to that, his perpetual and, at times irrational fear of the police, together with his frequently stormy, relationship with his mum and sisters and you get a young man whose thoughts are rapidly turning towards simply running away from it all!
Then you have his mates....twelve of them in all (teenage boys and girls) and all at the same school as "JC". Not surprisingly therefore, they're all of similar social backgrounds and financial dispositions (apart from Pete and Judith that is, who, despite coming from slightly more privileged surroundings, have managed to get themselves kicked out of no less than seven private schools between them. The future for all of them meanwhile, seems bleak to say the least and probably set to revolve around a life governed by poverty, crime and gang violence....That is, until one day....
Hey, don't worry, I'll never send it to a publisher....I promise you! I never attempt to get any of my stories published! Besides, in this case, even if a publisher did happen to like it, it wouldn't be worth all the hassle and the death-threats, etc that would inevitably come my way....You know what some of those Anglicans are like....they seem to think they're the frickin' IR frickin' A!
Anyway, I must admit, even I think "Mauve" is quite funny in places (and I don't think I've ever thought such a thing before....self praise being no praise and all that). I suppose it's a fairly plagiaristic "Adrian Mole meets "The Da Vinci Code" meets "Gregory's Girl" meets "The Vicar of Dibley" meets "Hollyoaks" kind of thing, but it's a very sad story too and one that has positively no sex or violence....apart from the miraculous misconception scene at the bus stop and that other bit involving the school maths cupboard and Mrs Juniper's logarhythm method!
Oh well, I know it's cr*p really, but maybe, just maybe it's a little bit more accessible to the kids of today than that other book written about Him....You know the one....the really big and heavy one....the one with scores of uninviting chapters (uninviting if you're the kind of kid with a totally inhibiting social background that is)....the one with hundreds of pages covered in tiny print....and lots of "thou shalts" or, worse still, "thou shalt nots"....and absolutely no pictures!
Koi....Anything But! I love these beautiful fish, they're amongst my favourites. The staff at "Aquatic Habitat" were kind enough to allow me to take a couple of photographs of their own Koi, some of which are worth hundreds of pounds (I actually know someone who lives in the Cotswolds who hired his own jet to return from Japan a few years back complete with a very special Koi Carp to add to his collection. He wouldn't let on how much he'd paid for the fish itself, but rumours were rife at the time that it was somewhere in the region of £50,000!). Meanwhile, I've often shopped at "Aquatic Habitat" and once bought a blind Bubble-Eye Goldfish there for £3.99 (don't ask)! My daughter used to call the place "Ecstatic Tabbycat" when she was little....In fact, she still does! It's situated on the old Cheltenham/Stroud road out towards Prinknash Abbey.
Bonkers! Nobby, our bug expert, is adamant that, in his next life, he's definitely going to come back as a Bonking Beetle...He reckons it's all they ever do!
Jack-Go-to-Bed-at Noon So-called because of the fact that its flowers like to open really early in the morning, but close again around midday. Sadly, this folklore-rich relative of the humble Dandelion became alarmingly scarce during the 1970s and 1980s and continues to struggle to make any headway thirty years on. However, for a few years now, I've been doing a little bit to help them by ensuring that the seeds belonging to many of the ones I stumble across are relocated in the most appropriate places...and, I pleased to say, it seems to be working!
"So, is that the Nikon D60 or the D80 you've got there?"
Delicate Something about this photograph makes it look a little bit like a sketch or painting of some sort.
Young Robin I was asked today what had happened to the baby Robins raised by Uppity Bill and Stroppy Madam in one of the nest-boxes in my garden and who I featured on my websites a few weeks ago....Well, at least two of the four chicks appear to have survived and are still hanging around and about my garden. They are quite capable of fending for themselves now, but will retain their more camouflaged orangey-brown plumage colouration for a few weeks while they remain at their most vulnerable. Only towards the end of the summer will they finally develop the red breast feathers so characteristic of their species.
I should add that this particular youngster is, in fact, a bird I call "Blink" (due to a persistent blink reflex it always seems to have) and is actually the offspring of another pair of Robins who occupy mostly my front garden, White-Eye and Ruby.
Fungal in the Jungle
Unusual Poppy I thought I knew most of the Poppy family, but here's one I haven't seen before....that's if it actually is a Poppy!
Fledgling Blackbird This is one of the two surviving fledgling youngsters that "Two-Tone" and his mate have successfully reared over the past few weeks. There were originally four eggs, but one failed to hatch and one of the fledglings was taken by a cat! The non-hatching egg problem seems to be fairly universal amongst many species of birds this Spring and is probably down to the unseasonally damp and chilly weather that keeps re-occurring. It could well be that adults are running a much greater risk of eggs becoming too chilled if they leave them for slightly too long....something that wasn't quite so much of a problem in years gone by!
The five pairs of Blue Tits that have raised or are currently raising families in various nest-boxes dotted about my garden so far this year, have laid a total of thirty-three eggs....That's an average of six point something or other per nest, of which eleven have failed to hatch....That's a bleepin' third!
Normally, five nests would yield somewhere in the region of forty-five eggs, with no more than perhaps five or six failing to hatch! Around half of the resultant youngsters would then have been expected to survive the Summer and Autumn months, but only a handful would have made it through the really harsh, old-fashioned-type Winters that we used to get just a couple of decades ago!
I've talked about this before, but it's almost as if some bird species, such as Blue Tits and Great Tits, are somehow governing their own population levels and accommodating the lower death rates brought about by our now much milder Winters by laying fewer eggs in the Spring and Summer! However, the chilling of the eggs and their subsequent failure to hatch could result in there being far fewer birds surviving into second season adulthood than the birds themselves appear to have anticipated and the next really harsh Winter (I'm sure there'll be at least one) could practically decimate the entire Blue Tit and Great Tit populations right across the UK....not to mention similar effects occurring with many other species of small birds, including Finches. Buntings and other Tits!
For example, the survey work I've been conducting on Yellowhammer populations in the Cotswolds appears to suggest that the overall population is remaining relatively steady against a slightly worrying national decline, but more recently, I've been noticing a 10% average fall in the numbers of eggs being laid by Yellowhammers and a 15% average increase in eggs that fail to hatch. That's out of ten nests that I seek out and monitor each season. It's a small study (probably too small), but I believe it does act as a reasonable indicator of Yellowhammer egg and fledgling survival rates currently occurring in the Cotswolds at an average of 500m above sea-level.
I should stress that there are probably many other factors involved here....not least, the relative availability of suitable insect food resources for birds that are nesting so much earlier in the season just lately. It would also be relevant to find out if there are significant differences in the numbers of egg failures at different times of the season, although I do monitor and record local weather conditions on a daily basis throughout the year as part of my job, but I haven't yet correlated that data with the egg situation....There is so much to be done in such a relatively small time-frame....and all on top of the myriad other ranger-type survey stuff that I have to do plus finding the time to monitor and update all my other little pet projects, including my Buzzard, Kestrel, Tree Sparrow, Skylark and House Martin Surveys (the House Martin project alone now covers twenty different colonies right across Gloucestershire)! Then there's the Water Vole counting thingy I do for the Boss....and the Badger blood-testing stuff....and the Bat Survey near Stratford-upon-Avon....and the Swifts in Tewkesbury....and the wildflower photographing and cataloguing jobby covering the entire South-West....and....and....at some point, I want to create a wildlife pond in my garden this Summer with my daughter's help (she's very keen) and when things go a little bit quieter on the old wildlife front!
Crikey, I've just realized....I'm practically a one-man "Springwatch"!
Scraps Update Here he is....probably the most famous Chaffinch in the Solar System and worried about by people from Telford to Toronto to Triton!
Anyway, as you can see from this quick and very blurry snap I took of him this morning, he's doing just fine and is spending his time flying back and forth to the front garden to get food for his family....Yes, "Scraps" has a family....and to think, when he first lost his leg because of getting a claw caught in one of those stupid plastic net-bag thingys that idiot shopkeepers sell suet-balls and peanuts in and that even bigger idiots buy and hang in their gardens, I didn't give him much of a chance to survive the following forty-eight hours, let alone a couple of Winters and probably every other hazard you could possibly think of! Oh well....good on 'im, he's a persistent little b*gger!
Heath Spotted Orchid I had just tested the PH levels of the the water in the little river I'd been walking alongside for most of the day, only to discover that it was leaning more towards the acidic, so I wasn't really all that surprised to stumble across this pair of gorgeous Heath Spotted Orchids growing out of a clump of Sphagnum Moss (typically) on the river bank. It always fascinates me that, like its cousin the Common Spotted Orchid, this plant has such beautiful flowers, but that the leaves look somehow vaguely unwholesome due to the dark spot-like blemishes appearing all over them! I'm getting the general impression so far in 2008 by the way, that it doesn't appear to be much of an Orchid year. In fact, I've only had thirty-one actual sightings of Orchids so far covering four different species growing in the wild!
Rain-soaked Clematis Flower My wife has managed to encourage the Clematis to wind itself up a wall and over the top of the back garden gate. This has been her special project for many a year.
To coincide with a certain person's return from New Zealand I have added another chapter (Chapter 30) to "Slices" simply entitled "Kelly"
Very Poorly Greenfinch I would have been rather more concerned about what was actually wrong with this little Greenfinch (given the symptoms it was displaying) but for the fact that I was certain that it was the same bird that managed to stun itself quite badly a couple of days ago when it flew into the living-room window! It was fairly slow to recover at the time, but eventually did so well enough to fly off. I noticed it again yesterday evening perched on the lantern-feeder, but in an uncharacteristic, almost trance-like state and thought that it might be suffering from a mild concussion. By this morning however, judging from the condition of its plumage and its general demeanour, I'd have said that its state of health had most definitely deteriorated. For long periods it struggled to keep its eyes open, appeared to be in a great deal of pain and was spending most of its time just sitting around lethargically on or near the feeding station with its feathers all fluffed out. I decided to take a couple of pictures before the neighbour's cat took advantage of the situation and, just as I pressed the shutter to get the picture shown below, the bird suddenly sneezed violently and I caught the exact moment that a thick stream of pus literally exploded from the little bird's nasal passages! It then became very clear that a serious infection had taken hold and that the poor little thing was in considerable pain and was very unhappy! There was absolutely nothing that could be done for it and I knew that it would most certainly die within the next twenty-four hours, but not before enduring hours of agony, confusion and distress....so I shot it through the heart and it died instantly!
I took the dead bird to a local vet I know and asked if he could give it a quick examination to see exactly what the problem had been. He telephoned me today to confirm that it had almost certainly been the victim of a window strike and that it had fractured the very base of its upper mandible about two thirds of the way across just behind the nasal passages. This area of the bill is very sensitive (a bit like the quick of your finger nail) and it had rapidly become badly infected! He was fairly certain that the bird would have been running a high temperature, that it would have been having great difficulty breathing, experiencing considerable pain and would probably have succumbed within twenty-four hours! Feeding would have been virtually impossible considering that it's a Finch and so heavily dependent on the seed-crushing capability of its bill! It had also sustained damage to its left eye and, even without the injury to its bill, may well have lost its sight!
I know that some of you will be horrified by this and the old hate-mail will come pouring in as usual, but I wont sit back and watch something suffer like that if there's nothing else that can be done for it just to satisfy the ethical and moral sensibilities of the holier-than-thou brigade..... Believe me, if there had been anything else that could have been done, then I'd have tried it....the likes of "Scraps", "Peg", "One-Eyed Jack", "Phil" the Fox Cub and an endless list of others over the years bear testimony to that! I needn't have even mentioned it, but recounting it in this way helps me deal with it....which may seem ridiculous to most people (after all, it was only a bird!), but it's something I feel I need to do, given some of the events of my past! So, whether it's a little bird such as this one, a horrifically injured Badger or Fox involved in a recent collision with a vehicle travelling too fast along country lanes or a terrified Deer slowly bleeding to death from multiple gunshot wounds inflicted by sadistic poacher-morons using totally inappropriate ammunition....I/we do what needs to be done and I/we do it mostly because vets refuse to come out and do it for us!
Ramsons I could go on and on about this Springtime, shade-loving Lily of deciduous woodlands, but I'll give you just one "interesting" fact instead....The "rams" part of the plant's name probably derives from a much older Scandinavian word meaning "rank" which refers to both the odour and very strong flavour that cows milk acquires when the animal grazes on the plant! Enough? Ok, one more....we were taught that juice from the bulbs will double as an effective antiseptic when applied to a wound with swabs of Sphagnum Moss!
Female Beautiful Demoiselle Extraordinary wildlife in unusual situations or....everything comes to those who wait! I took this picture of a female Beautiful Demoiselle yesterday (14th May) in the Cotswolds just after I'd completed the eighth of my ten Skylark walks. These wonderful creatures occur here and there across the South of England, but I don't come across them all that often and it's always a joy to see one. The male of the species is much more blue and, for me, is one of the most attractive of all European insects. As for the extraordinary and the unusual....Many, many years ago, I was one of four men positioned to observe all the comings and goings along a remote, two mile stretch of the Irish border. We were all camouflaged to the eyeballs and hidden in various hedgerows and ditches. My own position overlooked a busy little crossroads (busy in that two cars and a tractor had already passed that way and I'd only been sat there for three and a half hours....It was practically a rush-hour!) and I knew that the others would be well and truly bored out of their tiny minds by then. However, it was a comfortably warm and sunny Springtime day, the birds were singing, the cotton-wool clouds were scudding, a dog was barking in the distance, a small stream gurgled and babbled its way down into the valley and the the newly emerged leaves on the trees rustled in the breeze above my head. It was quite idyllic really. Then a male Beautiful Demoiselle landed on the wooden stock of my rifle! It stayed there for ages and I watched it as, twice in quick succession, it darted upwards in an attempt to catch small flies in mid air! I've never forgotten it and I wrote about it in detail in my diary that same evening. The strangest thing about it was however, I found out years later that up until then at least, there had been no previous official sightings of Beautiful Demoiselles in the whole of Northern Ireland....ever! As for the date....it was the 14th May!
May-Day St Agnes Sunset I took this shot from my motor-home window as I looked across towards Wheal Coates and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Meanwhile, I suppose I'll be doing one of my travelogue/photo-journal thingys based on this particular data-collecting trip over the next few days.
April Wheatear I wasn't at all surprised to see a pair of Wheatears catching insects to feed to their young well before the end of April. The nest (typically) was concealed inside a Cornish drystone wall that surrounded a field covered with a liberal and (to a Wheatear) highly attractive sprinkling of insect-nurturing horse manure! Wheatears are amongst the first of our returning migrants to arrive in the Spring (usually around mid-March) and tend not to waste any time in their efforts to begin a family. It was pouring with rain, the light was minimal and a hailstorm with hailstones the size of very large peas had only just ended when I eventually took this picture! The birds however, seemed completely unperturbed by the changeable weather and simply carried on regardless. The name "Wheatear" by the way, is derived from the ancient Anglo-Saxon words "hwit" and "oers", meaning "white" and "rump" (or, more correctly, "a*se")....a diagnostic feature of the bird in flight and also the reason why my Great Granddad, a veteran cavalryman, named a favourite horse of his "Wheatear"....it apparently had a small white patch on its rump! Sadly however, it was also one of several to be shot from under him during the First World War!
Spring Trio Wood Anenome, Lesser Celandine and Bluebells
There's a bit about good old "Dog's Mercury" on the "Forest and Woodland" page (Whoopee-doo! I hear you say) Mmm....That reminds me of the joke about what you'd get if Whoopi Goldberg married Gerard Depardieu.... Though hearing it spoken out loud is better than reading it!
Trees and Clouds Not a very good picture at all, but I like the way the edges of the tree-tops seem to mirror the edges of the clouds.
Mid-April Thorn Blossom From the May Blossom of five or ten years ago to the April Blossom of today to....er....March Blossom in no more than another five years or so....Who knows?
Detail of a Grape Hyacinth Swaddled in Snow
Erysimum Wallflower....I Think
We get it in the neck from ignorant, foul-mouthed, moronic members of the public often enough. but it's nothing compared to some of the things that RSPCA officers have to put up sometimes! They do a brilliant job and could really do with your support....So try getting up off your great big backsides, sell your house and your kids and throw your pathetic excuse for a partner out onto the street and give the RSPCA everything you have....On the other hand, just a couple of bob would do quite nicely! www.rspca.org.uk
Stamens and Stuff....Inside a White Tulip
Unopened Beech Mast If you have the patience to persist with the fiddly business of shelling enough Beech nuts to make it worthwhile, then they do actually make an excellent substitute for Hazel nuts. They can also be used as a very palatable cooking oil (similar to Olive oil) that will, when mature enough, also double as an effective fuel for use in lanterns. I like eating the kernels raw and sometimes save a few to crush and sprinkle on cheese to grill lightly on toast when I'm away in my motor-home. We were taught how to make a very basic type of bread from them using just an ordinary camp fire and to make coffee too....though I'm not particularly fond of nut-based coffee substitutes and generally prefer teas brewed from tree saps.
Chedworth Woods Chedworth Woods are a subtle blend of both managed and ancient woodland and a place rich with wildlife of many kinds....Snowdrop, Primrose and Bluebell carpet the floor in Springtime and proliferations of Wild Strawberry and Wild Violet punctuate the greenery throughout the Summer. The sound of roding Woodcock at dusk and dawn in June and the chance to glimpse Nightjar during a late Summer or early Autumn sunset before they migrate for the Winter make the area popular with local wildlife enthusiasts, while modest herds of itinerant Fallow Deer and small family groups of Roe Deer add their own kind of magic to what , for many visitors, is a very special place.
Stone Curlew This one's for Mr S Dowde who sent me a rather vitriolic e-mail recently signed "Anon", but who forgot that some people's name and e-mail address appears in the heading info! Oh well, the words "stupid" and "totally" come to mind, but not necessarily in that order....though perhaps "Anon" can get someone to work it out for him if he can't manage for himself! He wants to know if I actually ever take photographs of anything "interesting" bird-wise rather than "all the usual garden rubbish"! Mmm....I'm honoured to have gained the attentions of a "real" birder, so here's one I took earlier, but haven't previously bothered to put on either of my sites (usually preferring the rubbish). I'll readily admit that these days, I'm just a sad, bewildered old git wandering around with a camera, but at least I'm no glorified train-spotter ticking boxes and putting lists on a website because I assume that normal people give a damn! A bird, any bird, means a lot more to me than a potential statistic to brag about in a hide to fellow obsessive neurotics and I'll carry on doing things my way for as long as it makes me the total opposite of you! Oh, and one other thing springs to mind....Say what you like about me, but keep your criticisms of my daughter's photography to yourself! I've now passed on your comments to my Boss and he' currently consulting his brief on the subject of what exactly you can and can't say about a minor on the world-wide web! You see Mr Dowde, I'm so much betterthese days in the way I react to unbelievably rude cretins like you than I used to be! Incidentally, there's another of those sorts of photographs that you personally would call "worth lookin at" on the home page of www.wildliferanger.com ....it's a little BWS! One thing though, because of your e-mail (and for the first time ever), I've added up all the different bird species I've seen in the UK in the past fifty-odd years and yes, you're right, I wouldn't quite qualify as a member of your asinine little club (but only by seven species....and despite all those unusual seabirds I've seen from Royal Navy frigates in UK waters!). The odd thing is though, I seem to have taken photos of most of them and/or added the sightings to research or conservation statistics rather than just tick a stupid box....and yes, my e-mail is working again....sort of!
Pink If you like anything pink, then this one's for you.
Hen Siskin This heavily streaked, Canary-like member of the Finch family may well have travelled a couple of miles in order to feed in my garden. Even during the breeding season, Siskins will travel large distances from the pine or mixed forests they choose to call home in order to find food. I think it's a deceptively pretty little bird, while the male of the species (below) is even more attractively marked with his black crown and bib and greeny-yellow rump and breast, though I think that the speckly effect of this particular bird and the absence of a fully defined black bib suggest that it's probably a first Winter juvenile.
Mealworms You can buy tubs of dried Mealworms from pet shops and garden centres these days for feeding to the birds, but I tend to find that they don't like them very much....even in the Winter. On the other hand, they love the live, wriggly-squiggly versions that you can get from a few of the more discerning pet shops or from reptile and amphibian specialists. A deep-rimmed bowl of live Mealworms placed on the bird-table or even on the ground is a real bonus for parent birds of such species as Robins, Warblers, Wrens, Blackbirds, Thrushes and Tits when they're struggling to find enough food to feed their ever-hungry young. The above picture shows both the larval and pupating stages of the humble Mealworm Beetle, a spieces of Darkling Beetle. You could even try breeding your own Mealworms as they can be fairly expensive to purchase regularly, but it's worth remembering that professional breeders usually treat them with a special "juvenile" hormone which prolongs the larval stage and often results in some individuals growing up to two inches in length!
The Younger of the Two Male GSWs Who Visit My Garden Daily After at least four years of being a bachelor recluse, the younger of the two male Great Spotted Woodpeckers who inhabit opposite ends of the little wood at the top of my garden has finally found himself a mate! For nearly a week he's been beating out seductive rhythms on an old hollow tree and now the young lady shown below has finally answered his call! I've seen her in the garden all by herself a couple of times, but today she arrived with her new beau and they shared a romantic suet a la coconut for two!
The Newly Arrived Female GSW
UK National Rangers
Peg ""Peg the Jackdaw is pretty much like "Scraps" the Chaffinch....all alone in the world! It's the price you pay for being a little bit different and I firmly believe that Peg is shunned by all the other Jackdaws in the village simply because she's semi-leucistic and the markings on her plumage set her apart from all the others. As a result and again like Scraps, she makes frequent visits to my garden to take advantage of the free handouts....especially the peanut butter! However, I'm very worried about her at the moment because she's picked up a very nasty leg injury at some point during the last few days and it seems to be not only very painful, but getting worse by the hour! I've tried several different ways to trap her and get her down to the vet's, but like 90% of all the other females I've known in my life, she's a lot damn smarter than me! Anyway, I'll keep trying. Meanwhile, I'll be doing a special diary entry about her on the "Brown" page on www.wildliferanger.com as soon as I get the internet on my own computer working again (I'm typing this on my daughter's so it's not ideal and I don't have access to all my files etc)!
Sunlight Through Yellow Carnation
Arty-Farty Long-Tailed Tit Mmm....Every now and again I get the urge to go all arty with my photographs, you know the kind of thing....lots of soft focus, subtle luminosity, blended tones....Well, I should know better really because this is the type of thing that nearly always happens no matter how hard I try!
Pollen-Bearing Honey-Bee I remember reading somewhere that it would take a thousand Honey-Bees working flat out for an entire day to collect enough pollen to make just one teaspoonful of honey! Mmm....So why don't they get theirs from the shop like everbody else? That's Bees for you I guess!
Swillgate Currently flooding its banks, the normal course of the Swillgate which flows at the rear of Tewkesbury Abbey, is marked by the pollarded Willow trees to the right of the picture. The building in the distance meanwhile, is the supposedly haunted Holm Hospital, formerly the Tewkesbury Workhouse, but now converted to private apartments.
Chapter 29 entitled "Lillian" has finally been added to "Slices"
Quicksilver Moonlight I don't sleep much at night and that's when I tend to do most of the work on my websites, but sometimes I don't sleep at all and then I pass the hours either working on here or reading. On the other hand, I might just grab the NVE and go for a walk in the woods in search of Owls, Bats and Badgers. I've always got a camera with me as well of course, even at night and that's when I usually try my hand at night photography....er, at night!
Alium Gigantium This is a photo from deep within my forbidden archives....one that I took last Summer, but then forgot all about....Hundreds of these tiny star-shaped flowerettes combine to make one huge Alium bloom and when I happened to notice two of them growing side by side in the garden of a house situated not far from the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall (what's all the fuss about? I found them straight away!) I decided to stop and ask the the owner of the property, a slightly top-heavy lady who was, at that moment, down on her hands and knees clipping the edges of her lawn, if I might be allowed to take a picture or two.... "That's a lovely pair of Gigantiums you've got there....Would you mind awfully if take a photograph?" I asked politely and then just about managed to get one shot away before being forced to hit the ground fast and hard as a considerably less than lovely pair of garden shears embedded themselves with a "thunk" into the trunk of a pretty Japonica tree exactly on a level with where my head had just been....No....hang on....wait a minute though....I think it might all have been a dream!
Light and Leaf
Common Reed I just thought I'd add this picture of a Common Reed to the "Home" page of this site to compliment the ones I've uploaded on the "Home" page of the other site.
From Woodland to Waterland As a boy growing up in the 1950s, this was one of my absolute favourite woodlands and a place where I collected many of the fascinating bits and pieces for my school's nature table (of which I was in sole charge simply because I was often a very difficult and occasionally violent child and it kept me quiet)! Today however, about three-quarters of this two acre site (it covered about five acres back then) stands in at least half a metre of water throughout the Winter months and well into the Spring....In fact, it hasn't actually been completely free of water since the floods of July 2007!
Broken Bracken Fungus Looking like a cross between the end slice of a crusty loaf and a piece of fried Cod, this topside fragment of Bracken Fungus was one of many such pieces scattered along a canal tow-path. As far as I could tell, the original fungus had been about the size of a very large, kidney-shaped dinner-plate, but had obviously suffered at the hands of some complete idiot totally incapable of appreciating the structure and complexity of a thing like this! Meanwhile, note the little holes dotted here and there on the surface and which, I'd guess, were created by some kind of insect larvae finding their way to the surface from deep inside or possibly by something burrowing into it from the outside....I did check by trying to find the ends of the holes, but whatever they were, they had long gone!
Chapter 28 of "Slices" entitled "Femme Fatale....A Ranger Anecdote" Has now been uploaded
Field Now what kind of a person is sad enough to have, of all things, a favourite field? Well, I do and this is about one twentieth of it!
Translucent Leaf Membrane I think that even the best of craftspersons have a bit to go yet before they can produce filigree work as beautiful and intricate as this!
"Twitch" Dedicated to all those birders out there who get just a little bit too anal about it all!
White Chrysanthemum In the universal language of flowers, the white Chrysanthemum supposedly signifies "truth", the red version represents "lurve" and the yellow one means "slighted lurve". Chrysanths in general, on the other hand, are said to signify both "cheerfulness" and "profound friendship" Well, I went to a wedding a few years ago where yellow Chrysanthemums had been provided for all the principal players to wear as button-holes instead of red or white Carnations. Thinking it was slightly odd, I asked the bride's mother if she thought that yellow might not be an altogether appropriate colour for a wedding and she replied that everybody else used either red or white Carnations and that yellow Chrysanthemums were, as she put it, "tastefully different"! It was one of those big, expensive, very showy and massively OTT weddings with top-hats, horse-drawn carriages and a five-star hotel reception, so I couldn't understand why one of the outrageously expensive wedding-planner-type people they'd employed to organize the entire thing hadn't pointed it out. Perhaps there was an element of prophecy about it though because, less than two years and a beautiful ten month-old daughter later, the happy couple were sadly divorced and living with new partners!
My own wedding, on the other hand, is undoubtedly worth a chapter all to itself on "Slices" and would probably read like a script from a 1970s "Carry-On" film. For example....my wife's eighty year-old little Granny (a kind of dottier and more short-sighted version of Esma Cannon) managed to get lost going to the loo at the reception. Unfortunately, there were two wedding receptions going on in the hotel at the same time and she mistakenly ended up at Lord Somebody or other's very posh version. By the time we finally found her, she'd already finished her lobster bisque starter and begun the Steak Dianne main course! She explained later that she'd just wandered in and thought that because there was obviously a wedding reception going on, then it had to be the right one! The hotel staff meanwhile, compounded the situation by thinking they'd made a simple mistake with the number of place-settings and kindly set an extra one for her....on the groom's side! She said that, although she hadn't recognized anyone sitting around her, she'd merely assumed that they must all be related to me. However, she hadn't been able to work out why, from her position at the back of the room, I appeared to have not only changed my suit for some reason, but to have shrunk in height by about a foot all of a sudden....oh and why had I insisted on calling her grand-daughter "Jennifer"? The fact that "Jennifer" was of a similar height and colouring to that of my wife hadn't exactly helped either!
Looking back over the years at all the highs and lows in our own marriage, I would have to say that the most important ingredient in helping to make it all hang together (at least more often than not) has been the fact that we both possess a very similar (albeit disjointed) sense of humour and a profound ability to recognize all the crazy and ridiculous things that happen either to us or around us for what they really are....er, crazy and ridiculous!
January Moth There are something like 12,000 different species of Geometer Moths and I assume (probably incorrectly) that this is one of them (perhaps some kind of Carpet Moth)....the interesting thing is that it was flying around in my bedroom last night (15th January)! It also seemed to prefer landing mostly on the ceiling, where it would then adjust its position in order to align itself with the pattern in the artex.
Solar Flare Gerbera ....Well, what else could I call it?
Into the Storm Heading West with just a few miles to go, but that's the Mother of all Storms just over the horizon and I'm headed straight for it....I was about to get very wet....yet again!
Hen Blackcap This is a slightly better shot of the female Blackcap than the two I've put on the "Brown" page of www.wildliferanger.com . She's a constant visitor to my garden now, but I still haven't managed to get a picture of the little male Blackcap whoI've only glimpsed as yet. This picture shows the female visiting the small bird-table at the very top of the garden, the one nearest the big trees. Traditionally, this particular table and the bird-feeder hanging from it, have always attracted the greatest variety of birds (probably because of its location), including the more timid ones, such as Treecreepers, Bullfinches and Siskins. Meanwhile, I was interested to note how aggressive this Dunnock-sized hen bird could be. She defended the food I'd placed on the table against all-comers, including Greenfinches, Great Tits and, at one point, a Starling! Only "Stroppy Madam" (shown immediately below and mate to "Uppity Bill), gave as good as she got. After several scuffles however, the two birds eventually appeared to reconcile their differences and decided to share the spoils!
Dorset Creeping Buttercup Traditionally, a feature of Summer meadows and warm, sunlit walks in the countryside, the Creeping Buttercup is a familiar sight to us all.
Winter Treeline Close to freezing, five miles still to walk and only an hour or so of daylight remaining.
Chapter 27 "Lies, Lies and More Damn Lies" Has now been uploaded on "Slices" (Read it and weep!)
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the only one of our emergency services that is entirely funded by charitable donations. In fact, 95% of the boat crew personnel and the vast majority of the support and administration staff are all volunteers. Between them, they save hundreds of lives around the shores of the UK every year! Meanwhile, I like to encourage visitors to my websites to endorse my daughter's idea of donating the cost of a cheap magazine to the RNLI (or to one of the other charitable organizations mentioned hereabouts if they prefer) or, better still, to become an RNLI member themselves I got a card from the Anstruther "Kingdom of Fife" Lifeboat crew this Christmas....the daft sods....so many of them can write their own names now....it made me well up! rnli.org.uk
Purple Blob Flowers
Wildlife Watching Supplies I buy a fair amount of outdoors photography kit from these guys and it's been invaluable in getting many of the pictures featured on my websites....though I do appreciate that that's not necessarily good advertising from their point of view! www.wildlifewatchingsupplies.co.uk
Tutsan I remember spending more than an hour in a Devonshire woodland in the pouring rain a long time ago being taught all about the medicinal properties of Tutsan. The plant has scientifically proven anti-septic properties and we were shown how to place the leaves on medium-sized flesh wounds to help prevent infection and speed up the healing process. I have since learned that the name "Tutsan" actually derives from the days of the Norman invasion and the French word Tutsaine (Tout-saine in modern French) meaning "all-wholesome" or "all-healthy". I don't recommend that any of you try to use it in this way however....In fact, I'd stick to a dab or two of germaline ointment and a band-aid if I were you just to be on the safe side! My Gran used to thoroughly dry the fresh, odourless leaves of Tutsan and this would eventually cause them to emit a faint smell of ambergris (the very expensive scent-base chemical otherwise only found in the intestines of Sperm Whales....a fact not always mentioned on certain perfume label bottles, but still used by one or two manufacturers today....at least for as long as their long-term stocks last)! Ambergris was always much sought after (much to the detriment of the magnificent Sperm Whale) because it continues to give off its pleasant smell for many years, but the same degree of odour-longevity also applies to the dried leaves of Tutsan....Mmm, if only the perfume manufacturers had talked to my Gran all those decades ago!
Battery Hen Welfare Trust This is a small charity dedicated to rescuing battery hens from the most awful of conditions and providing them with a better life. They are well worth a visit and can be found at.... www.bhwt.co.uk
After a protracted and very thorough internal re-vitalization, the Brewery Arts Centre has at last re-opened. There's a brand-new cafe and it's all looking very smart. Unfortunately, they no longer have my all-time favourite, lemony-butterbean soup on the menu....All is not lost however, because they do offer what must surely be the best potato and vegetable soup in the entire county!
Oil Seed Rape Fields
Marbled White Butterfly
Deanbirders.co.uk This little organization does some terrific work on behalf of bird-watching enthusiasts living in and around the Forest of Dean who are no longer able to get out and about as they once did.
The Snail and the Rose The shell of a Strawberry Snail, but the body of a White-Lip....Mmm, somebody didn't quite get this one right....Well, whatever it is, I like the patterning on the shell, but it also looks like some sort of electrical micro-circuitry to me, so I guess it must really be an android snail equipped with tiny TV cameras instead of eyes and sent from the distant future to watch us and record stuff for inclusion on their version of the "History Channel"! This theory also applies to all species of Mosquito by the way....oh and "Big Brother" housemates....after all, what else could they be for!
Corn Bunting If you're out for a walk in the countryside and you suddenly hear what sounds like someone jangling a set of car keys, then it's probably someone jangling a set of car keys! On the other hand, it could be Mr Corn Bunting sitting high up in some conspicuous position on a telegraph wire or at the very top of a bush rattling off his jingly-jangly song! Most bird books will place this Skylark-coloured reprobate in open farmland where it tends to nest on the ground (though not always), but in the Cotswolds at least, I tend to see them wherever you find a half-decent fence post! Sadly, Corn Bunting numbers across the UK are in free-fall decline, though I do think their numbers are actually on the increase slightly in the South-West, particularly in Cornwall and places like the Cotswolds. This is possibly due to recent and very radical changes in farming methods in such areas and a shift in priorities by farmers themselves in favour of the various types of wildlife inhabiting their land.
Cock Pheasant I snapped this magnificent cock Pheasant staring out from the undergrowth covering the bank at the top of my garden in Spring 2005 as he attempted to attract the attentions of the half dozen or so hen Pheasants feeding from the trough that I fill with seed and grain mainly for them and the Red-Legged Partridge who visit from time to time. Unfortunately, the ladies weren't the least bit interested in our avian Casanova and totally ignored what I thought were some pretty impressive efforts....Mmm, based on my own experiences with the fairer sex, I know exactly how he must have felt!
"Uppity Bill" Probably the most belligerent, bad-tempered and territorial little bird ever to grace a garden...."Uppity Bill" wastes no time in letting everyone know who's boss. Nevertheless, I have gradually managed to persuade him to feed quite happily from my hand using live mealworms, so I guess that, like a lot of characters I've known over the years, he has his price!
"It's only me!" After sitting with my back to this old gatepost for about fifteen minutes while I ate my lunch, it gradually began to dawn on me that the loud protestations from a pair of nearby Great Tits may well have something to do with me directly, so I decided to move myself and my gear across to the other side of the lane to finish eating over there. Within moments all became clear as the very indignant and slightly worried birds made straight for the post carrying food in their beaks....for their babies hidden about half a metre down inside! After the parents had departed once more in search of the next meal, I took a quick peek inside with my red-light torch and counted three healthy youngsters....Then I made an even quicker exit! It never ceases to amaze me how inventive and adaptable birds can be when needs must!
Greater Knapweed I think I've mentioned elsewhere on one or other of my websites (there goes the short-term memory again) that Greater Knapweed is another one of those wildflowers that has a strong medicinal lineage, probably dating back thousands of years and that it has certainly been used up until quite recently in the treatment of wounds, bruises, sores, scabs and ruptures. I do remember as a boy however, occasionally helping my Gran to prepare it in potion form as a cure for sore throats....I was always keen to learn about such things and she was always happy to teach me. According to the 17th Century herbalist, Nicholas Culpepper, "it is good for those who are bruised by any fall, blows or otherwise by drinking a decoction of the herb roots in wine and applying the same outwardly to the place"....Mmm, I don't remember her telling me anything about wine though! Meanwhile, the second part of its Latin name, Centaurea scabiosa, comes from the Latin meaning "roughness of the skin" (as in "scabies" too I guess), but it may also be down to the fact that wherever you find Greater Knapweed, you nearly alway see Field Scabious as well.
Starbursts I took this photo for two reasons....1, these flowers were actually growing at the edge of a field in Devon, not in a garden (although there were plenty of others growing in various gardens in the village a mile or so up the road) and....2, it fascinated me the way the petals looked for all the world as though they were made of paper that had been been flattened and scorched with an iron!
Please note....I think it's only fair to say that this particular Twitch cartoon is based around an original idea that first appeared in a copy of "Private Eye" magazine in 2006.
Winter Colours or Maybe an Idea for a New William Morris Print I work on the assumption that there's always something interesting to photograph at any time of the year and wherever you might happen to be, even when it comes to something as potentially dull as a small pond in Winter....not that anyone else would agree with me of course!