A Foretaste of Spring

This morning we made a supreme effort and managed to drag our weary bodies out of bed early. After a brief breakfast, we headed off to Rufford Abbey and country park.

 

All week there have been up to ten hawfinches in the trees surrounding the car park and we wanted to see these birds. We crossed the city in record time and found ourselves getting out of the car less than 45 minutes after we had set out. Following the know of birdwatchers in the car park gave us directions to nine hawfinches obligingly perched high in a tree.

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They remained in full view for approximately 15 minutes. It was the best view of hawfinches I have ever had. Around us, blue tits great tits nuthatches and chaffinches all sang at the top of their voices. We had limited time due to an appointment at 11am so we headed for the lake. 

Although the weather was cold four degrees it was bright and sunny and we found our first snowdrops in flower. You may not be able to feel spring is around the corner. You may not be able to see it but these small signs are the foretastes and promises of the spring and they always make me happy.

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Hazel trees were full of catkins and we saw wild arum just poking above the soil. Great tits, robins, and blackbirds have been shouting all week about how sexy they are and proclaiming territory. Indeed earlier this week a blackbird was still singing well after dark just near the library

Our diligence was rewarded with four goosanders two males and two females on the lake. Some species of birds were obviously accustomed to being fed regularly by visitors. A crowd of robins followed us hopefully whilst blue tits and great tits hovered nearby. At a bridge, we were treated to sights of a coal tit a few feet away from us great tits and blue tits were everywhere as were dunnocks robins and an occasional wren. A goldcrest hovered at the edge of a yew completely oblivious to our presence.

 

 

Our pleasure was increased by a flock of approximately fifty siskins who flew into the trees at the edge of the lake. One of two of us were sure there was redpoll amongst them but your father refuses to be convinced. None of those I saw had the red forehead but they did have the streaky pattern and buff wing bars of immature redpolls. 

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We headed back to the car seeing treecreeper, nuthatch and two great spotted woodpeckers on the way. We missed the brief flash of a kingfisher as it shot past. However, despite this disappointment, we saw three new species for the year Hawfinch, siskin and treecreeper. The drive home took twice as long as the early morning drive. For a short trip, we picked up four new species for the year, had wonderful views and had a lovely walk in the sunshine. A really lovely morning. As you can see the close-up shots of birds courtesy of Nottinghamshire birdwatchers are far superior to anything our camera can achieve. Hope everything is going well.

Love Mum 

 

A walk on the cold side

Hi

As you aware this week was my birthday. I had planned for us to go away for the weekend do a couple of walks enjoy a pub meal and visit the odd tea shop and potter home in tie for an early night before work on Monday. However when the weather reports forecast high tides, snow and gales and people on the coast started to be evacuated I reconsidered.

Despite the worst predictions of the weather forecasters today started off dry if rather cloudy. We decided to use the time to catch up on a bit of bird watching so we drove to Nottingham looking for waxwings. These rather endearing birds arrive in the UK from Scandinavia every few years when their numbers rise. They spend the winters here feeding on berries alongside the redwings, fieldfares thrushes and blackbirds. These four had chosen to Station themselves alongside a busy road in the suburb of Carrington in Nottingham where a row of trees full of berries were just ready to be eaten. They really were this clear

(Your father didn’t take his camera so this is one from LentonCliftongrove Birds – official website Cliftongrove Birds – official website534 × 640Search by image

Waxwing – Lenton)

 

waxwing2aWe also found a number of redwings enjoying the berries not to mention blackbirds and a mistle thrush.

(You can see the author of the image in the top)

redwingWe became a bit cold and decided to drive to Eyebrook Reservoir. We parked at the edge of the reservoir and found at least three male smew with attendant females.

Smew – Mergus albellus | NatureSpot NatureSpot773 × 563Search by image

Mergus albellus – Chris Lythall – Eyebrook Reservoir

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canstock13875012There was a shoot over the far side of the reservoir but we did manage to find a kingfisher at the dam . It was an excellent sighting of a male as it didn’t move for quite a few minutes. I also saw a great spotted woodpecker unfortunately it flew off before I could share it.

(owls about that then!: November 2015 Owl’s about that then!700 × 626Search by image

Kingfisher No 2)

kingfisherThe little owl was sitting in the sunshine against the tree but on the side out of the wind.  For once it looked more sleepy than grumpy.

(Rod’s Birding: A afternoon’s birding in Leicestershire and Rutland …Rod’s Birding800 × 450Search by image)

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We had a lovely few of fields of fieldfare and redwings.  Before we headed to Rutland Water. We were welcomed to the car park by the sight of a red Kite soaring above our heads.

Rod’s Birding: A day’s birding at Rutland Water, Rutland …Rod’s Birding800 × 450Search by image

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We found goosander on the main lagoon but instead of walking round we headed off to the North arm to see if we could find the black necked and slavonian grebes that have been about.

As we parked the car we found this bird in the edge of a lagoon along with grey heron and little egret just for comparison.

David Gray on Twitter: “One of the Great White Egrets on Lagoon 3 …Twitter1200 × 900Search by image

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We found both the slavonian grebe and black necked grebe 2 of each.

Slavonian Grebe – Podiceps auritus | NatureSpotNatureSpot1024 × 720Search by image

Podiceps auritus – Steve Mathers –

We heard that there was a red necked grebe on the Hamilton peninsula so we ended our day with seeing this bird.

Moysie’s Birding Blogmoysiesbirdtrips.blogspot.com400 × 296Search by image

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We found quite a few canny red legged partridge that had escaped the slaughter.  All in all we saw sixteeen new species had a lovely day out and were home before it got too dark

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Thank you to everyone whose images I have used to illustrate this narrative.

 

A reflection on 2016

So the old year has fled and the new year is entered as the song goes. It has been a turbulent year. Some events I found hard to believe and at the risk of sounding like Victor Meldrew I found myself amazed. Yet I still find myself believing that somehow through all the disasters and mistakes of the last 12 months things will sort themselves out.

 

I couldn’t believe that we voted to leave the EU and though I am resolved that when the majority of people vote we should follow their decision I still worry about what will happen in this country.  Perhaps if we succeed in those things that we excel at and improve in those things we are worse at, it will not be too bad. I seems that I am not alone in believing this.

http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/748918/britain-brexit-eu-referendum-positive-opinion-france-italy-netherlands

I couldn’t believe that the Americans voted for Donald Trump. This frightens me more than our own situation. However as there is nothing to be done about it it is a waste of time bemoaning the decision. There are enough people predicting doom and disaster. I prefer to concentrate on the positive things in our lives.

Finishing off the negative events

Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen are so awful they are beyond words.  I dare not dwell on the things that happen in these countries lest I despair.

This year we lost some of my favourite public figures Alan Rickman  was my favourite along with  Victoria Wood but I also liked Andrew Sachs, Jimmy Perry, Gene Wilder and Caroline Aherne, not to mention Ronnie Corbett and Terry Wogan. I all seems very sad. The list is available here. I always thought Alan Rickman was a very attractive man and Victoria Wood made me cry with laughing.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/celebrity-deaths-2016-debbie-reynolds-7797848

Finally there were the natural events earthquakes and floods. These also wrung our hearts.

The positive things

These have to be excavated from the general negativity of news. British athletes did incredibly well in Brazil as did the Para-Olympians.

Closer to home we live in a country where we can say what we want as long as we don’t  incite hatred and violence. We can do what we want unless we break the law . We can believe what we want and worship freely. Political debate is open and fair.

We have one of the best broadcasters in the world the BBC is renowned throughout the world.

We have a free education, free healthcare and a benefits system however overstretched these facilities are. Many countries do not possess these things.

The police and armed services work very hard to protect us from terrorists.

We have more top universities that most other countries, we have excellent schools. We have extraordinary museums, art galleries and libraries.

We have some of the most beautiful countryside in the world.

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We are never too far from the sea. We cherish our wildlife and our access to the countryside as few other nations do.

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We have a rich and diverse history that we celebrate and we produce some of the best scientists, engineers, actors, musicians, writers, and poets in the world.

Above all, despite the constant negativity of much of the media, I have found most people to be kind and courteous, welcoming and friendly.

I think on reflection that we have much to be proud and thankful for and that for us our lives have fallen in a good land.

I am facing this year with optimism in the belief that we will survive and prosper.

Happy new year

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Holidays

School finished for the Christmas holidays today. Concerts have been performed, presents given, the annual Christmas exhortation from the headmaster delivered, a mince pie consumed and with hugs and good wishes exchanged, off we went in our cars. I am going in over the holidays to sort some things out so the new term does not find me unprepared.

Meanwhile in another part of the city a young man covered in blood staggered about the street crying for help. When police found him he directed them to a house where a woman had been murdered. In a related incident another man stepped in front of a lorry on the M1. It certainly puts things into perspective.

Not that we were aware of any of this as we crawled home through the gridlock of the city caused by this incident. The long queues of traffic still very much in evidence this evening.

As there is nothing I can do about any of this becoming upset will merely weaken me whilst not helping anyone else, consequently time to move to another topic.

Just over two whole weeks of holiday what a luxury.

I made a few resolutions to keep myself from getting carried away. Meals at certain times so I don’t spend all holiday n the kitchen.

A walk every day so I get to see some trees and bushes and retain my sanity.

Beside my bed a pile of books is waiting. the anticipation of pleasure is often as great as the pleasure itself. Thus I am currently in the happy position of anticipating a full two weeks filled with reading, walks, sewing, music and good food.

We have visitors so I will clean and tidy initially and then relax.  The house is full of food and decorated for Christmas, there is plenty alcohol for my visitors ( I rarely drink).

Nevertheless a few chores await me. A visit to the vet with the elderly cat, currently on antibiotics and painkillers, a trip to collect my new winter pyjamas. Younger women may gloat over a new dress but I love a new warm pair of pyjamas to snuggle in clean sheets on the bed and a good book to read.

So I started to read Robert Macfarlane’s book Landscape about the terms used to describe our landscape. This is a fascinating read, many of the terms being archaic have fallen out of use.

I was disappointed to learn that many of the words for nature that I had taken for granted in my childhood were no longer part of the Junior Oxford English Dictionary. These are not unusual words but acorn, buttercup, almond, blackberry as a fruit, crocus etc.

This is a lesser celandine however just to remind me how much I look forward to spring

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All these words are connected with nature and have been dropped whilst blog, chatroom, cut and paste, block graph have been added. I have no problem with the additions. However I can’t help thinking that removing so many words related to nature reflects the increasing impoverishment of the lives of many children.

Are our urban areas so depleted of plants that children no longer recognise acorns and conkers or many wild flowers?

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Or is it that many children live in an urban environment they play indoors and spend many hours in front of a screen of one sort or another. Even when outside their phones go with them. Basically to summarise they live lives completed separated from the external environment ?

Since research has demonstrated that a connection to the natural world is beneficial for our mental well being will the next generation be more inclined to suffer from depression in addition to being deprived of some evocative names?

I read Nature Cure some years ago and was impressed with the account of how reconnecting with the natural environment enabled Richard Mabey to recover from severe depression. The articles below reinforce those arguments.

Here are the articles I read to research these phenomena

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/13/oxford-junior-dictionary-replacement-natural-word

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/healing-green/201212/biophilia-our-connection-the-natural-world

https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/environment/nature-and-us/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4157607/

What do you think? Am I deluded or nostalgic for a past age where life was simpler? The problem with this is that I am too close to this subject to be truly impartial. I just wondered. I leave you with a picture of snowdrops as a foretaste of what is coming in the new year.

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Cardiff art collection landscapes

Hi,

Once again I am here telling you about our weekend in Cardiff. The meeting of BWARS was on at the museum in Cardiff so I accompanied your father down for a break. When we arranged it I wasn’t aware that one of you would be coming home for a wedding. However by the time I found out the hotel was booked. In the end as you only passed through briefly on Friday night and Sunday evening I didn’t feel I was neglecting you.

We arrived early for the first meeting and parked in the long stay parking. The entomology department has been reduced considerably  due to cuts and they operate on a skeleton staff.

In spite of this there were several younger people at the meeting. After eating lunch, I skipped the ID session not wanting to spend hours looking at insects down a microscope. I signed up for the free art tour and we were shown around by a volunteer who took us to see the landscapes.

The first landscapes were from the early seventeenth century and appeared more as architect plans for a house and garden than paintings. They were  designed to show off how wealthy the owners were and thus how much land they possessed.  Of course now that the house and gardens no longer exist it is invaluable to historians who want to find out how these houses were laid out and how the gardens of the time were designed. On painting is of the front of the house and gardens and one of the rear. On the right you can see the sea in the background

We were lead on a whistle stop tour through some Poussin landscapes where we were shown how the story of the picture had diminished over time and the landscape had come to dominate the canvas.

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The story of this particular landscape is of a general who had been falsely accused forces to commit suicide and here his body is being taken out of the city of Athens for disposal elsewhere. Late in the story he is pardoned so his grieving widow brings his ashes back for a proper burial in the city.  The other painting in this pair shows the widow of the general gathering up his ashes so that she can return them to the city.

Well that’s all right then unless you are the dead general. Anyway this particular painting was bought by Clive of India who had similar problems to the general in the painting without (thankfully) the forced suicide.  Perhaps he empathised with the plight of public humiliation of someone who had worked so hard for their country, perhaps he thought that his reputation would be cleared?

In the Nether;ands in the 17th century the merchant class grew after the end of the wars with Spain and as a result artists flourished as wealthy patrons looked for something to spend all that money on and show how wealthy they were. In this picture the scene is painted from a boat anchored on the water.

I expect if you were a merchant the last thing you would want on the wall sis a storm at sea, reminding you off all that investment perilously sailing to your customers. Consequently here it is very calm and the water is barely moving. Again for historians this provides a great deal of detail on costumes or ordinary sailors at the time and how the boats were designed. The sailing boat with the bent mast is a sail that is opened downwards under gravity rather than being hoisted. The operation requires fewer sailors and such sails were used on London barges of the time.

Then the pastoral movement provided bucolic scenes of plenty and contentment from artists that were removed from the daily privations. No mud, no toil, no smells, no poverty, no exploitation, just happy shepherds and milkmaids.

Here is a Gainsborough.

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This soldiers farewell was one of my  favourites, although the sentiments are maudlin and very Victorian the picture is almost photographic in the portrayal of the scene and so sharp. I felt I could touch the scene. (Of course I didn’t try). Fanciful I may be but not deluded.

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At the end of the nineteenth century came the impressionists and here the landscapes have an unfocused dreamlike quality. thanks to the generosity of two sisters who bequeathed their collection to the museum there are many impressionist paintings.

The bottom painting on the right reminded me of lake Anguilara although it is London.

 

These next paintings were painted by  Alfred Sisely and are a couple of views of the coast of Wales. He  was born and lived in France, but was a british citizen. He had a French mistress with whom he had a number of children. However it was the law that if you were not married neither your partner nor your children could inherit. So his mistress put her foot down and they came to the UK and to Wales presumably to keep things quiet in case of a scandal and they were married in Cardiff.  Once married there was no problem about the inheritance. During their honeymoon he went out painting every day and the result are these charming landscapes. He was one of the impressionists who believed in painting in the open air  “en plein air”. The museum has two lovely paintings of the Welsh coast that he painted at this time.

 

It is curious to think that had the railway not been developed artists would have found it much more difficult to travel to out of the way places to paint. In addition paint was produced in tubes making more portable, no more grinding pigments and mixing them every time you wanted to paint. Canvases were pre-prepared so they could be carried around . Do you agree? This impressionist painting reminded me of those intense dreamlike landscapes of Van Gogh.

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These tiny landscapes were lovely  despite being over 200 years old they appear curiously modern. I think it is to do with their  brightness, clean lines and clear colours. Again they had that photographic quality.  I liked them.

 

Finally here are the last few landscapes the first in a John Singer Sargent known for his portraits but here he paints a tyrolean landscape with two figures reclining. Almost photographic it draws you in.

 

Here are a couple of twentieth century paintings one of men making hay more modern happy peasants and the other cute children by the seaside. Both were utterly charming and portray an ideal world. After horrific wars perhaps people wanted to believe that the world would become a better place or perhaps they were harking back to an earlier more leisurely romantic time. What do you think?

 

 

 

The Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the castle

Dear Sons,

On Sunday we decide to go to Nottingham castle to visit the exhibition of da Vinci drawings that have been loaned from the Royal Collection. As usual on a Sunday we had a number of jobs to do before we could go and it was late morning before we got the bus. Parking in town has become so expensive and difficult we preferred the bus.

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These were studies for a giant statue of a horse in bronze. However when the French captured the city the soldiers used his initial model for target practice and the statue was never built.

It was lunchtime when we reached the castle. At the moment if you pay for entry you get a years membership so it is worth paying. Both of us have  a years membership. It was a lovely late summer day just right, sunny but not too hot and with a light breeze to keep the temperature down.  We enjoyed the views over the city and pointed out landmarks for each other. The exhibition was upstairs next to the art gallery. Dad had brought his camera and took some photos so I could send them to you  (without flash of course).

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 These drawings are astronomical

Although there were only ten drawings in total, there was a video showing how the paper was prepared and the drawings executed. I found this fascinating. Then boards with details of Leonardo’s life and works. I was photographed as the Mona Lisa for a giggle I should crop it and use it as my avatar perhaps?

Finally we got to view the drawings and they were magnificent. Much smaller than you would think but so beautiful and enchanting in their perfection and playfulness. You could see where he had tried out ideas and scribbled notes and lines of poetry.

Here are some studies of felines of various species. I particularly like the miniature dragon

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It was all so much more intimate than seeing  finished art works. It felt as if we were seeing inside his thoughts, not quite as intimate as reading a diary, but an insight into the mind of a genius. Having seen the materials he had to work with, made the delicacy of the writing and the fine lines of the drawing all the more impressive. I had to keep reminding myself of how ephemeral these images are and how many hundreds of years ago they had been produced.

This is a study for the head of Saint Anne the mother of The Virgin Mary the final piece shows St Anne with Mary on her lap and the infant Jesus

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Here is a diagram of the circulatory system

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Here the diagram shows an enlarged pancreas and a small liver. It is inconceivable that such a meticulous draughtsman would have made an error, which could indicate that the subject whose dissection was the source for these drawings had diseased organs.

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We finished the visit by wandering through the artworks showing each other our favourites. I like the Laura Knights’ whereas Dad prefers the more romantic realistic landscapes. We debated the species of dragonfly in one of the still life paintings I argued for black tailed skimmer he favoured broad bodied chaser. We had lunch in the cafe and pottered back mid afternoon to do some work on the garden.

This drawing of blackberries is in chalk such an ephemeral material and it has survived all these hundreds of years.

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We bought the book of the exhibition and when we have read it we will send it to you. Well that is all my news for this weekend.

This figure is rather short and stocky but again incredibly well preserved considering the drawing was done when the wars of the roses were taking part in England.

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This is a storm scene

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Attenborough early September

Dear Son,

I though I would update you on how our trip round Attenborough went last Sunday. By the time we had finished phonecalls it was later than we had hoped. However the weather was perfect so we set off quickly before any other distractions came along.

Just outside the sand martin hide were two common sandpipers. David photographed them on his phone. In case you were wondering it is near that big clump of vegetation.

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See what I mean about it being a beautiful day. At the corner of the building a

female goosander was sat somewhat incongruously.

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From tower hide we watched a raven fly across to Barton in Fabis and a buzzard circling the woods opposite. A black necked grebe was trying to hide in amongst the little grebes and a green sandpiper tried to look inconspicuous amongst the dunlin on the long island. There were more reed buntings than last time. The statistics for fledging cand martins were encouraging this year most of those ringed had fledged.

A kingfisher flew across but I missed it as it was so rapid. Three little egrets saw amongst the ducks and black headed gulls. Most of the ducks were in eclipse but it was good to see the return of some of the winter species, shoveler, a few widgeon as well as the commoner teal, mallard, tufteds and gadwell. we heard several Cetti’s warblers always skulking in bushes. Snipe were lurking at the edges of the islands and several ringed plovers were patrolling. occassionally we would see a duck that had completed its moult and it stood out as being particularly splendid. It has been so long since we went birding I found myself fascinated by watching tufted ducks diving the look so much more elegant under water. I hadn’t noticed how bright the yellow eye is nor how its colour is emphasised by the black pupil at the centre.

We walked to the old fishermans’ car park at a gentle stroll. We found a mixed flock of tits, lots of long tailed tits flitting through the trees calling incessantly, but also blue tits and great tits associated with them. A female blackcap was tagging along and both robins and wrens were present.  from the centre of the village we headed beside the works pond towards the bund most of this pond has been filled in with sediment from the gravel extraction. I finally saw my own kingfisher low over the pond. We moved though the wood towards the railway line and the crossing where we turned towards the river. It is always quieter at this end and we had avoided most of the prams cyclists and pushchairs. We walked back along the river towards the bund and noticed that most of the great crested grebes were changing back to winter plumage. Our peace was disturbed by a speedboat on the river but apart from that it was a long languorous stroll. Common darters crossed the path ahead of us. Unfortunately they refused to pose as this one has so this is from the web.

common-darter

From time to time a curious migrant hawker would come to investigate us. One was so fresh it took your father some time to determine it wasn’t a southern migrant hawker as these have been seen in Essex. The image here is from the web as we only had a phone

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The late summer sun had also brought out the butterflies many of them speckled woods but also small and green veined white, comma, and red admiral.

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There were many honey bees feeding on the hymalayan balsam that has returned and some common carder bees Bombus Pascorum. We also found a bee mimic, volucella bombylans this large hoverfly resembles a bee.

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The brilliantly named marmalade hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus was everywhere.

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The oak trees were full of acorns so there were jays magpies and squirrels. Many of the acorns had knopper galls on them as you can see here.

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We walked five miles saw fifty two species of bird as well as many insects and plants and had a wonderful sunday morning.

Since we returned we have found a rove beetle in the kitchen and a moth caterpillar on a pile of books at school. The temperature today has exceeded that in Morocco and we are having a mini heatwave.

Much love Mum

Wildlife of Dungeness

As we were staying in Hythe we used the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway to visit Dungeness. It was a remarkably windy day but it was dry and the sun was shining intermittently which is something to be pleased about in England. Accordingly we did find quite a few invertebrates and plants.There were several species of butterfly. The gatekeeper with the two spots in the forewing. Pyronia tithonus.  Image is from butterfly conservation they were too flighty to photograph

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A number of meadow brown butterflies Maniola jurtina. Image is from butterfly.org as they wouldn’t stay still for us.

 

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There were a number of common blue butterflies. Polyommatus icarus. Here is a photo from butterfly conservation to illustrate the species.

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We found a couple of Painted lady butterflies Cynthia vanessa. These are often migrants blown across from the continent.

Painted lady

 

We also saw at least three red admirals Vanessa atalanta.

red admiral

 

Alongside these were both large white butterflies Pieris brassicae, small white butterflies Pieris rapae and green veined white butterflies Pieris napi. In the past these three species were all grouped together as cabbage white butterflies.

Green veined white and large white with small white beneath. The photos are from butterfly conservation to illustrate the differences.

small white butterfly

 

We found the carline thistle Carlina vulgaris . I had not seen one before and I was struck with its  architectural shape.

Carline thistle

Beside the train station we found the aptly named yellow horned sea poppy. Glaucium flavum.   It only grows along the sea shore. It is toxic but I found it very attractive. (Sorry a bit of whimsey here). It even features in a poem.

Yellow-horned sea poppy

A poppy grows upon the shore,

Bursts her twin cups in summer late:

Her leaves are glaucus-green and hoar,

Her petals yellow, delicate.

She has no lovers like the red,

That dances with the noble corn:

Her blossoms on the waves are shed,

Where she stands shivering and forlorn.
Shorter Poems Robert Bridges

 

Sea kale  Crambe maritima was abundant it always appears so leathery I am surprised it was once considered a popular vegetable. Although I would not recommend gathering any plant material from a nature reserve

Sea Kale

In Dungeness a species of  bumble bee used to live.  Its latin name is  Bombus subterraneus but commonly it is called the short haired bumblebee. It is one of  only 27 bumblebee species native to the UK. (This is one reason for learning to identify them, twenty seven species is manageable whereas over 2,000 moths is less so).

(This image is from the BWARS website as we didn’t find one.)

bombus subterranis

This bee was once widespread across the south of England, occurring as far north as Humberside, but from the 1960s onwards its population declined, probably due to the loss of species rich grassland habitats. Consequently its distribution became fragmented with colonies isolated. It was last recorded near the RSBP Dungeness nature reserve in 1988 and declared extinct in 2000.  Thankfully a population of UK origin survives in New Zealand, where they were introduced in 1895 to pollinate red clover. Attempts were made to captive rear and export queens back from New Zealand to the UK but with limited success. Results from genetic analysis showed high levels of inbreeding. Thus, in 2011, Natural England and the project partners agreed to change the reintroduction source location from New Zealand to a European source. Sweden was chosen as it supports the most robust population and has a broadly similar climate to the UK. Once suitable source locations had been found, a sample of bees were collected and  checked for diseases. 89 queen bees were collected from southern Sweden and put into quarantine. At the end of May, 51 healthy queens were released at RSPB’s Dungeness reserve. This process was repeated the following year with 100 queens bees collected and 49 released. During July that year seven workers were seen in the Dungeness area, one of which was melanistic (dark form), proving that at least two queens had successfully founded nests. In Spring 2014 a further 46 healthy queens were released at the Dungeness site and during July and August that year, three worker bees were seen around Dungeness and a fourth outside the area, providing encouraging signs that the bees may be nesting in the surrounding area. In 2015 25 queens were released in the site and three workers were seen in a single day and over the following four days. This indicates that  the habitat is suitable to support a healthy colony.  We searched extensively for this bumblebee but we didn’t find any. Since it is a huge area this is not surprising but rather disappointing.

Despite our disappointment we did find large numbers of most of the common species of  bumblebee;

The common carder Bombus pascorum, (Image is from BWARS website).

bombus pascuorum

 

The white tailed bumblebee Bombus leucorum,

 

Common Carder bumblevee on teasel

The buff tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris (Image is from BWARS website)

bombus terrestris 2

 

The red tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius. (Image is from bumblebee. org)

bombus lapidarius

 

We found the wind rather trying whilst we attempted to photograph the insects and consequently many of the images are from butterfly conservation or BWARS images.

We also found common blue damselfly 

Enallagma cyathigerum

Small Gardens

I am fascinated by what can be done in a tiny space with a small yard or strip of garden and here I want to share some ideas I found on holiday. They say that Kent is the garden of England and whilst I thought it was full of gardens, many counties of England are full of beautiful gardens. Indeed gardens are something we do very well.

I believe it is relatively easy to make a lovely garden in a larger space where there is room for a water feature, trees a shade area a lawn bedding plants etc. Not to mention the money to buy all these things and perhaps a gardener to care for it all.

However, to make a small awkward area look interesting is much more challenging.

Here are some of the ideas I have seen and photographed on my travels this summer.

This is the garden of the hotel where we stayed.

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I thought it was rather a tribute to bedding plants and brash colours but in the sunshine it was rather pretty. I would rather sit amidst flowers and shrubs that surrounded by grass and concrete.

 

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It is amazing what you can make with a narrow passage beside your house. This one was in Hythe.

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If however you only have a wall and your plants get wind blasted and salt encrusted. It is still possible to plant in containers. What a great idea these were!

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Once again this time a narrow strip between two houses this time just behind the sea wall so subject to salty winds and storms. This is a real garden complete with a few weeds and grasses.

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This garden really made an effort not only was there the model pheasant on the balcony, but the plastic crabs and lobsters  next to the front door. I don’t think I would have them in my garden but beside the beach it didn’t look too tacky. I am not too sure about the pirate flag though. Just as well those troughs are secured.

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Then there was a small space in Rye between the church and the street, that was overflowing with plants. It was very romantic and atmospheric.

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Even where there were three storey victorian houses, many of the small patches of garden had been lovingly nurtured. This one was just beside a basement and had to be photographed over the wall looking down. I was inspired with how much could be done with just a few metres of space.  Again this one was in Hythe.

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Finally the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch had its own style of gardening. The small gardens beside the tracks tended to contain small models of animals and gnomes. However, the signal boxes and stations had some really lovely tubs and hanging baskets.

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Railway sleepers obviously make excellent plant containers. The gauge on those railway lines is approximately 15 inches and this shows in the photograph above.

Do you have any ideas of what can be done in a small space?

 

The medieval churches of Romney Marshes

Whilst spending a few days in Kent we came across an archaeologist who was very well informed about the medieval churches around Hythe Brookland and Rye . This was something I had never heard about and so under his advice we visited some of these churches and began to read about them and here is what I found out. I also took quite a few photos.

Near the hotel was a tin tabernacle which doubled as a cinema and meeting space for the local community. I rather liked it and I hadn’t seen one before. Apparently they come in kit form a sort of IKEA church.

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It is not surprising that in a county that contain the most famous church in England that churches would abound. In addition when one considers that this church was the scene of one of the most famous murders of the the middle ages then the place becomes much more attractive. I refer of course to the Murder of Thomas a Becket whose death was allegedly authorised by Henry II . Following this event Thomas was declared a martyr and his remains were carefully kept by the cathedral, who then turned the site into a place of pilgrimage and made a lot of money from it. This was due in part to the medieval fascination with relics and the belief that such remains could prove to be miraculous.

The church at Brooklands I have not seen this stable door arrangement on a church before

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Owing to this, a number of churches have some nod to Thomas a Becket and here in  Brooklands on Romney Marsh, the church has a medieval mural of the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket. This is remarkable, not so much for the subject, but for the fact it has withstood the deprecations of both Cromwells Thomas and Oliver and the whole destruction of religious iconography that accompanied the reformation. Although to be fair it was covered up.

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In addition the church has the most fantastic bell tower that is completely separate from the church and stands in the church yard. The tiles are wooden.

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A reminder of the fact that a couple of hundred years ago everyone would have had to pay tithes a tenth of their crops to the church was found in these weights. This ensured the church received its due demands.

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As well as this I found a tomb of a sailor with a rather amusing epitaph.

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In case you can’t read it I added the description.

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and a grave with a name I had never heard before. Gamaliel.

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It sounds like something from Lord of the Rings. I felt a bit ashamed of myself for judging those parents who name their children after trendy things the Paris, Morpheus, Tequila, Chardonnay, Mercedes and Sarumans of the modern generation. Obviously this is not a modern trend.

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Further on we found a lovely lead baptistry very heavy and  beautifully carved. I hope the church security is good. The lead was stolen from St Leonard’s in Wollaton last week again. Most churches in the area have replaced the lead with a less costly material. Indeed most of the lead on St Leonards was replaced  with an alternative material after the last theft.

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Most of the churches on the marsh had that smell of damp and mould and old hymn books. However the one in Hythe did not. It has a ossory where you can go and stare at the bones of dead people if you are so inclined. however having given myself nightmares over the one in Rome I wasn’t about to repeat the experience. The church was much lighter than many of the other ones and didn’t smell which was a relief. It was cool on a hot day and very quiet we wandered around enjoying the silence and the high roof.  The churches in both Rye and Hythe are massive indicating either a much larger population or a more devout community or alternatively a stopover for pilgrims on the way to Canterbury.

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Here is details of the altar it seems a bit ornate compared to what I am used to. I preferred this simple chapel. I know in Rome the churches are full of lovely art and sculpture. However they. did not have the reformation.

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So this was our day for looking at churches I found it restful and interesting but I am glad that My favourite Geek prefers wildlife to old churches as I wouldn’t want to do it all the time. Thanks to the expert though I can now identify a Norman arch.

 

Lots of love your mother