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.


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.


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. 



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 



Books I read over the Christmas holidays

As I mentioned in an earlier post my Christmas holidays included the following activities

A walk every day

We managed a walk most days but with our visitor in his eightieth year the walks were sometimes quite short ones.  However we did get to connect with the natural environment every day.

Lots of board games

We played scrabble, whist, dominoes, rummikub, trionimos, charades, settlers of Catan, zombicide and plague (a brand new game). The last three were my son’s games.  I approached them as a duty, but found all three really good fun and would recommend them to anyone not put off by the titles. I bought a set of pick up sticks for a few pounds, as a stocking filler and these proved to be very popular. We also tried charades but the three of us understand each other so well there is not much mystery. I also bought some wooden puzzles that kept us occupied on Christmas morning.

Reading a long list of books

I have read a blog (Dovegreyreader Scribbles if you are interested) recommending Robert Macfarlane’s Book ‘Landscapes’ and had bought a copy. After the first sentence I was hooked and ordered all the other books by this author I could find from the library.


My favourite book so far by this author is ‘The Old Ways’ where he explores ancient ways on foot looking at the landscape, natural history, archaeology, and history. I was completely mesmerised by the language, and the mental images they engendered.


The smallest book by Robert Macfarlane is ‘Holloway’ an exploration of the hollow lanes of South Dorset. Written in memory of Roger Deakin another great writer of natural history, it had all the beauty of lyrical poetry. The artwork was stunningly beautiful. Of all these books it is the one I would most like to own. I still have ‘Mountains of the Mind’ and ‘Wild Places’ to read. I also need to order ‘Underland’ an exploration of the world beneath our feet. I cannot express how much pleasure these books have given me my mind traveled to all these wonderful places and I could picture them so clearly thanks to the excellent writing.


Dovegrey reader scribbles also recommended a publisher porsephone books. Accordingly I searched the library catalogue for books from this publisher and came across ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ by Winifred Watson. This proved to be a real Cinderella story set in the 1930s. Some of the scenes resembled a French Farce but it was charming and light. I loved seeing this very moral and repressed spinster gradually softening and becoming more human.  Who could not like a frothy book for the winter when outside the rain is lashing the windows and the wind is howling.



From the same publisher came Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd. An elderly spinster is rescued from a desert island where she has been marooned for four years and arrives home in the middle of the second world war. Her struggles to re adjust are both funny and poignant. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The end papers are truly lovely.

‘Saplings’ By Noel Streatfeild was also on the list. Most famous for the childrens’ novel ‘Ballet Shoes’, this novel examines the effect of the disturbance and uncertainty of the second would war on the lives of children. More specifically the children of a seemingly perfect middle class family. It was rather long but very moving. The trouble is it is hard to get too emotional about the trauma of a perfectly nice middle class family, when at that time people including children were literally starving and being murdered. Despite this it was thought provoking.

I read ‘The Miniaturist’ by Jessie Burton. This was gripping and as a thriller quite a page turner.It is beautifully written and the denouement is quite a condemnation of the Calvinistic attitude prevalent in Amsterdam at the time. At this time a similar intolerance is present in the world and the parallels were quite startling. It has the distinction of making me cry something very few novels manage to do these days.


I also read ‘Various Pets Alive and Dead’ by Marina Lewycka. her first novel “A Short History on Tractors in Ukrainian” was a fantastic book. I had forgotten so much of my childhood and that book brought it all back from the pet words, to the mind set of the father and the attitude of Ukrainian women of that era. the clash between Ukrainians now and then is sympathetically protrayed. Her next two books I found disappointing. However in this latest novel the clash of attitudes and lifestyles is again explored and her voice is back as clear as ever. This novel is the story of a group of adult children, of a couple of hippies. Having grown up in a sort of commune in the 1970’s, the adult children rebel or reinvent themselves or try to move on. Their troubles and conflicts were both funny and sad. I couldn’t put the book down and finished it in a day. So what a wonderful fortnight of reading.


Swimming wherever possible. I managed this on several occasions revelling in being nearly the only person in the pool. Despite the cool temperature of the water I find the joy of swimming and having the time to meditate at the same time delightful. Some people sit to meditate others run, however I swim and as I pace the lengths of the pool I reflect on my day, my life and any problems I have. I clamber out tired but refreshed.

Good meals

I cooked any number of roast dinners and desserts, not to mention all the bottles of wine we drank. All were eaten by my family and friends. As always, it took hours to cook everything and a matter of minutes for them to be devoured. Still we didn’t eat too much rubbish food, as a result we are facing the new year feeling a lot healthier than we usually do.

Playing some music every day I managed 2 days when I played so an abject failure there. I did manage to play a Haydn sonata this afternoon. I bought myself a book of Haydn piano sonatas as a treat and have just commenced playing the easiest ones.

So this was my Christmas and New Year. New Years day was rounded off by the first of the new season of Sherlock. Pure escapism but very enjoyable all the same. I hope that you have all had an equally pleasant Christmas Holiday and I wish you all a very happy New Year


Galium aparine L. cleavers

Galium aparine L. cleavers,
Also called clivers, goosegrass, kisses, stickyweed, stickybud, sticky willy
This species is a straggling climber, growing up to 3 m long, with slender 4-angled stems. Its narrow leaves can reach 7 cm long and are arranged in groups (whorls) of 6-8 (rarely 4) around the stem.

Goosegrass plant
Goosegrass plant

This is a scrambling annual whose stems may reach up to five feet in hedgerows, fields and gardens where it flourishes. It clings by the curved hook-like prickles on the four angles of the stems and the edges of the leaves.
Indeed the whole plant is covered in minute hooked hairs, and can cling to skin, fur and clothing. It has been raised from the excreta of various birds demonstrating that it is consumed by them. Viable seeds have also been found in manure and compost showing that they are resistant to the heat required to decompose manure and compost and that they are persistent. The flowers are tiny (2mm across), white, 4-petalled tubes. The fruits are purplish green covered with numerous colourless joked bristles, often borne in clusters of two or three. The individual fruits are approximately 2mm to 2.5 mm across and weighs approximately 0.02 to 0.05 grams. Germination mostly occurs in autumn but may occur in spring. In harsh winters it is the latter that survives. The germination in different seasons is a characteristic that has enabled this plant to proliferate.
goosegrass flowers

These fruits are also covered in hooked hairs which catch in the fur of passing animals or the peoples clothing. This is an efficient distribution mechanism that has contributed to the plant’s wide geographical range.
goose grass seed

.It is well known by children for its ‘stickiness’, owing to its covering of hooked hairs. There is a rather cruel Scottish children’s game involving this plant. The trick is to persuade somebody to allow a piece of it to be put in their mouth – then pull it out fast. The hooks being rather sharp, the game is called ‘bleedy tongues’! Galium aparine is also well known by herbalists for its medicinal properties.

goose grass close up
Geography and distribution
Galium aparine is naturally widespread throughout Europe, North America and some parts of Asia, and occurs as far north as Alaska and Greenland. Its seeds have been recorded from deposits of Paleolithic or Mesolithic Age, which render it less probable that it owes its presence to conditions created by man, despite being especially associated with habitat conditions that are partially artificial. It can grow at heights of up to 1500 feet above sea level. It has been introduced as far south as Australia, New Zealand, and the sub-Antarctic Islands. It can be a prolific weed of cereal crops (especially in Europe and North America). Heavy infestation can cause significant yield losses, and its seeds can be difficult to separate mechanically from those of crops such as oilseed rape (canola). It is found throughout the British Isles (except in some places in the far north) and appears to be increasing in abundance in recent years despite the use of species-specific agricultural herbicides. Galium aparine can be found growing naturally on scree slopes and shingle banks.

Used as a love medicine by one tribe, the infusion of plant was used as a bath by women to be successful in love. Also used as a hair tonic, said to be good for the hair, making it grow long. Several Native American Tribes used an infusion of the plant for gonorrhea. A red dye is obtained from a decoction of the root, it is said to dye bones red. It was also believed to remove freckels. Gerard writes of Clivers as a marvelous remedy for the bites of snakes, spiders and all venomous creatures. A thick matt of the stems, when used as a sieve for filtering milk, was said to give healing properties to the milk
John Ruskin went so far as to trace out aesthetic and moral standards for flowers labelling weeds as unfinished. He argued that it was unnatural for a plant to have a cluster of bristles springing from its centre. Interestingly the term weedy when applied to humans has connotations of weakness or feebleness rather that those of strength and intimidation characteristics of many weed species.

This is not a recommendation merely information
The whole plant is edible, though not particularly tasty, and in China, for example, it is eaten as a vegetable. In times of war of famine it has been eaten possibly from desperation rather than as a delicacy. Its seeds can be roasted to prepare a sort of coffee substitute. It is also reputed to have a number of medicinal properties, having been used in traditional medicine (usually as an infusion) to treat kidney problems, skin disorders and high blood pressure among other ailments. Archaeological evidence suggests that it may have been used in this way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Cleavers is still used by medical herbalists today, although scientific evidence regarding its effectiveness is still lacking.
botanical drawing of goosegrass
Britain’s wild harvest
Kew’s Sustainable Uses of Plants Group undertook a survey of commercial uses of wild and traditionally managed plants in England and Scotland for the Countryside Agency, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage to determine the economic role of wild plants and to assist in their sustainable use. Despite the revival of interest in herbal remedies in UK most plant material used in herbal products is imported. However, there are exceptions. In Norfolk, for example, cleavers is gathered from hedgerows and used in herbal products.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
This weedy species is an annual that can be grown in temperate regions, in parts of the garden managed for wildlife, as either a summer or winter annual (or occasionally as a biennial). The seed is thought to be viable for around 2-6 years unless frozen. Seeds should be sown in moist soil, preferably a rich loam, with above-average fertility and pH of 5.5-8.0. Seeds must be buried to germinate, ideally at a depth of 2-10 mm. Seeds that have passed through the gut of a herbivore are thought to have a higher germination rate. Development is rapid with flowers appearing as soon as eight weeks after germination. Ripe seeds develop from summer through to autumn, depending on the region in which plants are grown. Supports such as pea sticks can be provided, as this plant likes to scramble. Plants will die down after the fruits are released at which point seeds must be collected for next year’s plants.
Note that this plant can be invasive. In some parts of the world it is a serious weed of crops and native vegetation, where it can out-compete indigenous species. For this reason, if cultivating cleavers, care should be taken to prevent its spread into farmland or sensitive areas of conservation importance.
hooks on seeds

Climbing mechanism of Galium aparine.
Galium aparine is a herbaceous climbing plant that attaches to host plants mainly via its leaves, which are covered by hooked trichomes. Although such hooks are found on both leaf surfaces, the leaves of G. aparine are mainly positioned upon the leaves of supporting plants and rarely beneath. In order to understand the mechanism underlying this observation, we have studied structural and mechanical properties of single leaf hooks, frictional properties of leaf surfaces, turgor pressure in different leaf tissues and bending properties of the leaves in different directions. Abaxial and adaxial leaf hooks differ significantly in orientation, distribution, structure and mechanical properties. In accordance with these differences, friction properties of leaves depend on the direction of the applied force and differ significantly between both leaf surfaces. This results in a ratchet mechanism. Abaxial leaf hooks provide strong attachment upon the leaves of adjacent plants, whereas adaxial hooks cause a gliding-off from the underside of the leaves of host plants. Thus, the leaves of G. aparine can function as attachment organs, and simultaneously orient themselves advantageously for their photosynthetic function. Further adaptations in turgor pressure or concerning an anisotropy of the flexural stiffness of the leaves have not been found.
goose grass showing hooks

Always on the bright side: the climbing mechanism of Galium aparine
Georg Bauer,1 Marie-Christin Klein,2,3 Stanislav N. Gorb,2,3 Thomas Speck,1 Dagmar Voigt,2,3 and Friederike Gallenmüller1,*
Author information ► Article notes ► Copyright and License information ►
This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

References and credits
Allen, D.E. & Hatfield, G. (2004). Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: an Ethnobotany of Britain and Ireland. Timber Press, Portland.
Bown, D. (2008). The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London.
Gucker, C. (2005). Galium aparine. Fire Effects Information System [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available online
Milliken, W. & Bridgewater, S. (2004). Flora Celtica –Plants and People in Scotland. Birlinn, Edinburgh.
Prendergast, H.D.V. & Sanderson, H. (2004). Britain’s Wild Harvest: The Commercial Uses of Wild Plants and Fungi. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Countryside Agency, London.
Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. & Dines, T.A. (eds) (2002). New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora: an Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Kew Science Editor: William Milliken
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.
Richard Mabey 2010 Weeds Profile books London
Edward Salisbury 1961 Weeds and Aliens Collins Press London

A wet day in Norfolk

We woke to the sound of the wind driving rain against the windows. Although some birders are brave enough to venture out in such conditions I find getting cold and wet unpleasant and I find my optics don’t work well in heavy rain. After a disasterous day on South Stacks some years back, the details of which I have tried to block out of my memory I try to avoid seriously bad weather. Anyway several games of scrabble and cards later, we decided we needed a bit of a drive and some fresh air so we went for a drive to Wolferton triangle which is next to Dersingham Bog. We Drove round in a desultory fashion looking for Golden Phesant which we had seen there before but not for a few years. We found a field near Friar Marcus Stud where there were a number of birds a couple of Grey Partridge another species I had not seen this year, Phesants, a Golden Plover in summer plummage and about 30 each of Fieldfare and Redwings. A male Ring Ouzel was hopping amongst them as were any number of rabbits. Two in two days is rather special.  In the trees we found a Roe Deer. We called in to be blown along the beach at Hunstanton the redeeming features were Fulmars on their nest and sanderling along the beach and a hare we spotted running through a field.

Still another species for the year and 25 species of bird seen total 137

birdwatching Sheringham Cley and lady Anne’s Drive Holkham

We decided to make use of the dry weather whilst it lasted and therefore we were out bright and early Before we had left the flat we had seen a Greater Spotted woodpecker in the garden and 4 Jays. There was also a Black Phesant probably just a colour morph but very distinctive. We headed for a walk at the end of Lady Annes Drive and were there by 8 am. On the lake by the path were a pair of Little Grebes calling to each other. A spoonbill flew over us and on the marshes a mottley collection of geese consisting of Greylags, Canadas, a pair of Egyptian Geese together with a Mute Swan were busily feeding. In the field beside the drive were Wigeon and Teal both quite close to us and very colourful. A male Ring Ouzel was feeding with the blackbirds at the end of the drive. This was a lovely surprise as it is a few years since I had seen one of these birds. Early migrants were everywhere, Chiffchaffs appeared to sing from every possible bush or small tree Robins, Wrens, Dunnocks. Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Long Tailed Tits were abundant.  A Goldcrest darted about an ivy covered tree. A stoat ran in front of the hide whilst we were sat there and a muntjac was seen lurking in the hedgerow. As we made our way back to the car a Red Kite flew over us and we managed to see a total of 4 Marsh Harriers some came very close to the hide.

Having started the day and just seen a Sparrowhawk  fly in front of us, we pressed on towards Cley nature reserve where we immediately saw Brent Geese feeding on the marsh. Two Spoonbills were engrossed in sleeping on a lagoon in front of North hide. We found two bright male Pintail ducks. We also picked up Shoveler, Pochard, Mallard, Gadwell and Tufted Ducks. We found 4 adult Mediterranean Gulls on lagoons in the centre of the reserve. Outside on the boardwalk we stopped and waited and found serveral Bearded Tits and heard a Cetti’s Warbler.

Our waders included Oystercatchers, Avocets, Golden Plover 3 summer plummage adults were on the eye field with a group of Lapwing, a Snipe was lurking in the edge of the reeds whilst Black Godwits, Redshank and Curlew fed in the ditches. On the sea we saw small groups of Sandwich Terns passing through. On the Eyefield we found 2 Wheatears a sure sign of spring alongside some Linnets and Meadow Pipits. Suitably refreshed and happy we drove on towards Sheringham for a bit of seawatching.  On the front were crowds of people with picnics and ice creams and cycles, scooters, pushchairs. nevertheless we settled down to watch and soon saw a few Turnstones amongst the rocks  we had picked out most of the common gull species  ( Black Headed, Herring, Common, Lesser black Backed and Greater Black Backes and were just getting weary when another star bird a first winter Glaucous Gull can close to the shore and settled on the sea where we could all easily see it. The colour of a milky cappuchino with streaks it was another lovely surprise. So another successful day with  77 species of bird seen and 6 new species seen for the year making the total at 136.

Birdwatching in Norfolk Titchwell and Hunstanton 2nd April 2012

It was a chilly morning as we breakfasted, loaded up the car and set out for Norfolk. It had an ominous sky that promised rain and we were suitably sober as a result. Birding in heavy rain is a miserable experience. However, by the time we had reached Norfolk, pausing at The Farm Shop for tea and stickies, the weather though still cold, looked decidedly more promising. On the way we had seen most of the Corvids Carrion Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws, Magpies most of the pigeons and several hares.

I have noticed that often although it is raining and wet inland it can be quite bright and sunny on this coast. We were not due to arrive at the flat we had rented till late afternoon se we had the day to amuse ourselves. we therefore started at Titchwell RSPB site of much of our birdwatching on this coast. We found several Marsh Harriers in the air before we had left the car park. They were joined by a Red Kite and a Buzzard a common one but where can you see three species of raptor in the visitor car park?

On the bird feeders we found the usual suspects Long Tailed Tits,Blue Tits, Great Tits,  many Chaffinches,  Greenfinch and Goldfinch and abundant House Sparrows. On the reed beds we saw a number of Reed Buntings and Linnets flew over our heads and settled on the salt marsh. In the trees around the visitors centre there were a number of Chiff Chaff singing loudly, several Dunnocks were lurking in the vegetation, a blackbird was turning over leaf litter looking for food and a songthrush was seen on a shrub. A Robin was giving star performances by taking food from the visitors, whereas a wren just chided us for getting too close.

The hide in the reed beds was very quiet indeed the whole reserve was very quiet in terms of visitors. We heard Bearded Tits but we only caught a glimpse of them flying. We found a male Blackcap in the woodland near the centre and a Cetti’s warbler sang from just outside the reed bed hide.  A phesant called from the reeds somewhere.

On the water we found Mute Swan,  Shellduck, Egyptian Geese, Canada Geese, Tufted Ducks, male and female Gadwell, Widgeon and Teal, Shoveler and Pochard. A lovely surprise was a pair of Red Crested Pochard on the Freshwater lagoon. An elusive male Goldeneye kept disppearing as he dived for food at the back of the lagoon and several females were also found. We found a rather sulky Grey Heron fishing in the reeds. On the marsh a Little Egret was conspicuous as only a white bird on a salt marsh can be. Oystercatchers were making amorous advances on the salt marsh and a Kestrel just hung in the air above the reeds.  Skylarks were displaying over the marsh a group of approximately 30 Brent Geese lingered obviously not that eager to fly to their breeding grounds.

As for waders we found Avocets displaying, Ringed Plovers, 10 Grey Plover, Lapwings, 10 to 15 Ruff a group of 10 Dunlin, Redshank. A Curlew flew over and a snipe was found trying to hide amongst some vegetation on the freshwater lagoon. the tide was high so there were about 30 Black Tailed Godwits roosting on a muddy island in the lagoon.

A large group of gulls contained Black Headed Gulls, Common gulls herring Gulls and Lesser Black backed Gulls

All of this whetted our appetite for when we arrived atthe beach. We met a bired who assured us that nothing was on the water. Thankfully he was mistaken,  we found 3 Scoter species and though we waited for an age to see them move so that we could determine if they were the velvet Scoter that had been reported no luck so they were just down as Scoter sp. Just out from the beach a line of 9 ducks gave us excellent views and turned out to be Long Tailed Ducks, a drake was amongst them we could distinguish their facial markings.  On the beach sanderlings were running towards the sea and back again like some sort of wind up toy, Turnstones were also busy on the beach. A couple of Blackheaded Gulls kept coming closer and closer to us in the hope of some food probably. We found great Crested Grebes on the sea. On the return walk we noted a number of Meadow Pipits and a flock of Linnets that flew between the salt marsh and the brackish lagoon. After another hot drink and snack we decided to go for a walk at Hunstanton. the weather was becoming decidedly colder and windy. we walked along the base of the cliffs finding Fulmars on their nests and several Stock doves freezing hiding in crevices on the cliffs. A common seal watched us for a while from just off the beach and we found a pair of Red Breasted Mergansers on the sea. It was starting to rain so we headed for the digs. Around the flat were quite a few rabbits. Finally in the tree near to the house we found a Willow Tit. we had seen 75 seperate species of bird and 3 species that I hadn’t yet seen in 2012 an excellent start to the holiday.