Breinton Springs

I visited Breinton Springs in 2015 and blogged about it in Wye Walk – Part Three. I returned in May 2018 and have only just now decided to write about it. In 2012 the spring had been buried under a landslip following heavy rain. After my visit in 2015, but unrelated to it, the National Trust decided to rescue it.

Photo of Breinton Spring.

Breinton Spring obscured by a landslip 2015

They removed fallen and damaged trees, excavated soil which was then used to form a causeway and shore up the banks. Stones were gathered up and used to create a step near to the spring. The causeway was also formed from brash and cordwood log to allow for drainage and improve access. They also cleared away a lot of human rubbish. In my opinion the area is now much improved.

Photo of breinton springs

Breinton Springs restored 2018

It was a frosty morning in May when I visited, the meadow was full of diamante cobwebs. photo of cobweb with frost

Mist rose gently from the river.mist above river

The cattle were already well into their breakfast as the sun broke up the haze.

Ever get the feeling you are being watched?cow looking through hedge

The hamlet of Breinton is a short distance from the city of Hereford adjacent to the River Wye. The nearby orchard and St Michael’s church are on the site of an abandoned medieval village. The spring itself is surrounded by stonework indicating it’s importance at some time.photo of church silhouette

Near to the church are the remains of a moated mound which consisted of walls and a stone gateway dating from Norman times. It is thought that the Cathedral’s Chancellor was based there around 1150 AD before moving into the city in the 13th century. At this point it seems to have been used as a stock enclosure. A church was first built here around 1200 AD but was rebuilt between 1866 and 1870.orchard fenced

The area around Breinton is very rich agricultural land. Irrigation channels were dug across the meadows from the river and it was a popular drovers’ route for bringing livestock to Hereford. The river could be forded nearby and there were ponds for watering animals. The area is still rich with nurseries and orchards associated with Wyevale and Bulmers. Woodpeckers flourish in the orchards giving rise to the brand of Bulmers cider.orchard with sun rising

Buried in the churchyard is Dr Henry Graves Bull (1818 – 1885) founder of the British Mycological Society and the Woolhope Field Naturalist’s Club (WFNC). The area around Breinton is considered to be diverse in habitat and wildlife consisting of woodland, grassland, riverbank, orchards, hedgerows and different types of farmland. It was a favourite stamping ground for botanists from the  WFNC who discovered rare flowering plants, fungi and mosses here, presumably they actually trod carefully rather than stamping. photo of flowers and grasses

In 2012 over 200 different flowering plants were identified including rarities such as Shepherd’s Needle and Corn Buttercup.

Illustration of flower

Shepherds Needle – Scandix pecten-veneris Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé ”Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz” 1885, Permission granted under GFDL by Kurt Stueber

The hedgerows themselves consist of a diverse variety of shrubs and trees and create vital habitat and corridors for wildlife. Breinton provides a home for foxes, badgers, otters, squirrels, moles, hedgehogs, bats and birds such as kingfishers, skylarks, woodpeckers, yellowhammers and buzzards. The ponds host a variety of amphibians such as great crested newts and there is a rich diversity of insects including moths and butterflies.hawthorn tree on riverbank

A bat survey in 2013 identified six different bat species; soprano pipistrelle, common pipistrelle, myotis, long-eared and serotine bats.

This bucolic idyll also inspired Herefordian artist Brian Hatton (1887 – 1916). Ironically he suffered from hay fever as a child and was often packed off to Swansea for his health. He was killed during WWI in Egypt. His paintings captured the pastoral scenes around Breinton; sun soaked harvests and wildflower meadows the backdrops for his rural workers, gypsies and horses. You can learn more about his life and see more of his paintings here.

painting of corn stooks in the sunshine

Corn Stooks – Brian Hatton 1908

What springs from Breinton is a small pocket of history, evoking bygone days when the countryside was full of life rather than the chemically treated sterile monoculture we have become accustomed to.

 

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Tawny Owl

At the end of last summer we became aware that there was a female tawny owl  Strix aluco, in the vicinity. We often heard her distinctive “keewik” call in the early hours of the morning. It is more of a shriek whereas the male tawny owls make the more familiar hooting noise.photo of owl in winter trees

I thought it odd that a woodland owl should be hanging around suburbia, although we do have some mature trees in our garden the rest of the neighbourhood seem to enjoy taking chainsaws to theirs.  There is also a new housing estate being built behind us. We do live near to the Bulmers’ cider factory so perhaps that provided a plentiful supply of rodents.photo of tawny owl in tree

To my surprise one winter morning while taking flash photos of the bare tree branches (I was trying to get a spookily atmospheric photo) I noticed a large shape swoop into the tree, I looked up to see the tawny owl sitting on a branch staring back down at me. Without thinking I took a flash photo and then thought that would scare her away, but it didn’t. I suppose being a suburban owl she is used to lights.photo of tawny owl in tree

Since then I saw her most winter mornings, usually between 6.30 and 7am sitting in our birch trees. I would say a few words to her, take a couple of photos and then leave her to it. She usually peered down at me, swaying her head from side to side. Having ascertained that I was a harmless idiot she then went back to looking around, apparently listening to the bird song of the diurnal birds as they wake.photo of tawny owl in tree

Then in spring there was the distant hooting of a male tawny and we have not seen or heard our female since. We assume that she was lured away by this feathery Lothario and hopefully is raising some fluffy owlets. Perhaps she will return to us afterwards.photo of tawny owl in tree

The tawny owl diet consists mainly of rodents such a voles, but also small birds, bats and even earthworms. Their digestive tract is kept healthy by consuming the bones which they then bring up again in owl pellets. photo of tawny owl in tree

The “Tu-whit; Tu-who” call they are famous for is actually the duet between male and female owls calling.  Shakespeare is responsible for this misinformation from “Love’s Labour’s Lost”:

WINTER.
When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

You can learn more and listen to their calls on the BTO website. The site even has a design to make a nest box for tawny owls.

 

 

Summer Solstice

June 21st 2019 is the longest day and the first day of summer, known as the Summer Solstice.Photo of sunrise

Here in the northern hemisphere the earth is at its maximum tilt towards the sun. This is the day that the northern hemisphere experiences the longest amount of daylight. It is also known as midsummer and later, in the Christian world, St John’s Day, as it is believed to be when John the Baptist was born.

photo of bumblebee on blue blossomMidsommar is a particularly important event in Scandinavia and the Baltic. In pagan times, bonfires were lit to drive out evil spirits and the healing properties of plants such as St John’s Wort and Calendula were thought to be enhanced. Will-O’-The-Wisps are supposed to appear on this night, hovering over hidden treasure, sadly the phenomenon is probably just marsh gas.

In the UK Neo-Druids are allowed access to Stonehenge. It is thought that Stonehenge may have been built, approximately 3000 years BC, to make the best use of the sunrise at the summer solstice and that the stones could have been used as some sort of calendar. In Cornwall many old midsummer festivals have been revived in the Golowan festival, including lighting bonfires and parading hobby horses.photo of cuckoo pint

The National Geographic website has some photos celebrating the summer solstice here.

“Glad midsommar och SKÅL”.

I shall leave the last word on the subject to William Shakespeare, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:

Puck. How now, spirit! whither wander you?
fairy Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moone’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,yellow flower photo

 

Cuckoo Spit and Xylella

Cuckoos famously herald the start of spring when you first hear one call. Sadly these days the start of spring tends to be heralded by the sound of a neighbour’s lawn mower revving up of a Sunday morning. The cuckoo is in decline. I suspect it is related to the decline of the birds that they parasitise. They are very particular about which other bird nests they lay their eggs in. Not all bird species are fooled by them. Professor Richard Dawkins explains all about it in one of his books – they are all well worth a read. Cuckoos also leap out of clocks to tell you the time. What they don’t do is spit.photo of cuckoo spit on plant

So what causes these frothy blobs on plants? It is the nymph stage of the froghopper, a cute little bug with an impressive ability to jump. When the nymph hatches out of the egg it bites into the plant stem to feed on the sap; as it excretes the digested sap it pumps air into it with its modified anus (the IBS sufferer of the bug world) to create a blob of froth that envelopes the larva keeping it moist and protected from predators.photo of cuckoo spit on plant

There is a dangerous plant bacteria called Xylella fastidiosa which has been damaging trees and plants on mainland Europe. It has yet to reach the UK, but it is spread by xylem feeding insects such as froghoppers also known as spittlebugs and leafhoppers. The BRIGIT project is trying to learn about the distribution and behaviour of these insects and is asking the public to look out for them and record sightings, please see this website for more information.photo of cuckoo spit on plant

This spring the solidago, or golden rod, in the garden is dripping with this froghopper spittle.photo of golden rod flowers

Over at the British Pathe website you can watch an informative film all about the lifecycle of the froghopper. It was made in 1932 and lasts just over 8 minutes. Before Youtube was invented, kids used to pay to watch this sort of thing at the cinema. I would recommend watching it if you wish to see froghoppers being moithered at every stage of their development, and notice how the nicely spoken gentleman explains it all without once saying anus, bum, bottom, harris, poop-chute or – pardon my French – derriere. Link below:

British Pathe: Froghoppers

Shield Bugs

The recent warm weather in the UK has brought out a lot of insects in the garden. I spotted these green shield bugs getting friendly in the lilac flowers.2 green bugs mating in a purple flowerThe heady aroma of the lilac had clearly put them in the mood for romance.2 green bugs mating in a purple flowerphoto of green shield bug

These bugs are commonplace in British gardens, often basking on leaves in the sun. Being true bugs (see this post for further explanation here) they bite into the stalks of plants to drink the sap. However, they do not cause any significant damage. Their American cousins are known as stink bugs.

They hibernate through the winter as adults, then after mating, lay eggs underneath leaves. After hatching they go through a wingless nymph stage, before developing into the adult form. I found one nymph lurking in amongst my St John’s Wort.Photo of Green Shield Bug Nymph

It seems that these bugs are spreading north into Scotland due to the warming climate, this website here is tracking their movements, so if you see one you can submit your sighting to them.

They are not to be confused with Green Shield Stamps, an early shopping loyalty scheme which saw elderly ladies in the UK obsessively collecting stamps to fill their books in the 1970s, so that they could buy treats for their young charges in the Co-op. Jethro Tull allude to these stamps in their song, “Broadford Bazaar”. For those of you who are unfamiliar with their music you can have a listen here. Enjoy the song and remember there is no need to spray pesticide on your Green Shield Bugs.photo of green shield bug

Squirrel Feeder

I recently had some rare good fortune and won a squirrel feeder through one of @SoarMillSeeds regular competitions on Twitter. This is what I won: Wildlife World Squirrel Feeder. It arrived the next day, but I waited until the seemingly never ending gales did actually end before putting it up. It has one hole at the top, but I replaced one of the hinge screws with a longer one so that I could fix it to a tree with two screws. The squirrels seem to like playing on this tree and it was away from the bird feeders.squirrel feeder on tree

The squirrels ignored it for nearly a week. Gradually they started to approach it. I had put some loose peanuts on the top of it which they ate, but then ignored the squirrel food (also provided as part of my win) inside it.Squirrel on squirrel feeder

I had propped open the lid by placing peanut halves along the sides and across the perspex, but the squirrels still seemed not to grasp the concept. I think I must have rather dull squirrels.Squirrel scratching on squirrel feeder

One of the squirrels decided to make a concerted effort to get to the food. Rather like a child hammering a shape into the wrong hole he went for brute force and started chewing and tearing strips of wood off the feeder. Finally it clicked and he worked out he had to lift the lid.Squirrel lifting lid of squirrel feeder

Initially the squirrels seemed rather nervous about popping their heads into the feeder. This is probably a sensible policy given the brutal squirrel traps available.Squirrel using squirrel feeder

Within a morning they had worked it out and are now confidently sitting on the platform, lifting the lid and rummaging about for their preferred food. One was even sunbathing on top of it.Squirrel sitting on squirrel feeder

I was very pleased to have won this feeder, I love to see the squirrels in the garden. However, I was not too happy that they used to empty the peanut feeder before the birds got a chance. I have purchased a “squirrel proof” peanut feeder for less than £5. bluetit on peanut feeder

I have placed the bird feeder in yet another part of the garden and so far only the birds have been feeding from it. Of course this might be because the squirrels have yet to find it, so I cannot yet confirm that it will indeed thwart a determined squirrel.long tailed tit on peanut feeder

I have noticed that the squirrels don’t empty this feeder they seem to eat the food there and then and just occasionally run off with some of it. With the peanut feeder they would empty it within an hour, running off to cache the peanuts. It is almost as if they realise that there is no competition for this food and are happy to leave some for later. This means that I don’t have to top up the food for the squirrels or the birds so often.Squirrel eating on squirrel feeder

For now though we have happy squirrels, happy birds and a happy me.

I have uploaded three videos to You Tube. The first is of the squirrels learning to use the feeder, the second is of the squirrels using the feeder and the third is of the birds using the squirrel-proof peanut feeder. Each lasts around 7 or 8 minutes.

 

Hedgehogs Galore

The news about hedgehogs is rather depressing at the moment. Repeated studies suggest that our favourite wild native mammal is quietly disappearing from our lives. The latest study suggests that they are doing particularly badly in rural areas. It is lazy and ill informed to blame badgers as the survey shows that they too are absent in many of the same areas. Besides, badgers have predated hedgehogs and competed with them for food for thousands of years without putting a dent in the population. It is more likely that modern agricultural practices have produced a barren landscape for our wildlife.Photo of hedgehog

It now behoves those of us who have access to gardens and allotments to do what we can to help hedgehogs. We should avoid poisons such as slug pellets and pesticides; leave a wild patch including log piles and leaves; plant a variety of flowers that attract insects and make access easy so that hedgehogs can forage throughout linked gardens by creating CD sized gaps in fences.Photo of hedgehog in clover

Hedgehogs love to eat beetles and caterpillars so planting native hedges, shrubs and wildflowers will encourage the invertebrates that hedgehogs feed on. Supplemental feeding of hedgehogs is a great help to them, ensuring guaranteed meals and reducing the stress involved in seeking food. Hedgehogs can be fed with wet or dry cat or dog food, or specialist hedgehog food can be purchased. A simple hedgehog feeding station will keep cats and foxes from stealing the food.hedgehog by feeding station

There is no evidence that this additional food source prevents hedgehogs from engaging in their normal foraging behaviour.  Here is a series of photographs of a young hedgehog hunting for and finding food on my lawn en route to the feeding station.

I am glad to say that my local hedgehogs have managed to successfully raise at least three hoglets in my garden this year. In addition there have been at least five different adults visiting.hedgehogs

I even had a hedgehog wake up in the middle of the winter snow to visit the feeding station for a snack.hedgehog in snow

During the heatwave this summer I put out several dishes of water topped up throughout the day and night which was vital for all of our garden wildlife as well as hedgehogs.hedgehog drinking

It doesn’t take much to make your garden hedgehog friendly and to give them a helping hand so that future generations will not be robbed of the magical pleasure of watching hedgehogs snuffling about.hedgehog sniffing

Fitall Plug

This is a deviation from my usual nature based posts and is one for the historical electrics geeks out there. Going through Grandpa Ratz’ impressive collection of tools we found this handy gadget; a Loblite Fitall plug.Photo of Fitall plug

By moving the black plastic lever, brass pins would drop down in different configurations to fit into the varying types of sockets that were around during the 1960s. Apparently there were 5A, 13A and 15A sockets in those days. From reading discussions by people who used Fitall plugs it seems to be an electric shock waiting to happen.Photo of Fitall plug with pins dropped out

It also seems to not live up to its marketing hype either; I quote from the wonderful Museum of Plugs and Sockets: “The Fitall plug is useless for Wylex or Dorman & Smith sockets.” So much for fitting all! You can read many more details about this plug, with lots of photos of one taken apart here.Photo of Fitall plug base plate

Redesigned Hedgehog Feeder

A while ago I made a simple hedgehog feeding station out of a plastic storage box. This meant that the local hedgehogs could dine in the warm and dry. It also kept the neighbourhood cats from eating the food before the hedgehogs could. All except for one very slinky tortie.Photo of hedgehog in feeding station

I experimented with a number of obstacles to thwart this cat.

I decided to make a new hedgehog feeding box with a different design. I used another plastic storage box and the plastic tube that blank DVDs are stored in.Photo of platic box and tube

I cut the end off the DVD tube to make a tunnel and cut a hole in the side of the box (my first design had the hole cut in the end). I then wedged the tunnel into the hole so that half of it protruded into the box to give a narrow turning angle once in the box, and the other half protruded outside of the box.Photo of hedgehog feeding station

I placed two planters either side of the entrance to the feeding box and put a water dish right in front of the entrance. Hedgehogs can get into the box either by walking right through the water dish, or by going behind the planter and making a sharp right turn into the tunnel with another sharp right turn once inside the box.

So far the feeding box has been used by several different hedgehogs of varying sizes. Leftovers are cleaned up by a robin and a pair of blackbirds in the morning. To date no cat has been recorded inside the box, indeed they no longer even try.Photo of hedgehog drinking

Hedgehogs now need to pile on the weight so that they can successfully hibernate so if you aren’t already feeding hedgehogs in your gardens now is a great time to start. I feed my visitors with Sainsbury cat biscuits, other brands are available. You can feed them wet or dry cat or dog food, or you can buy specialist hedgehog food. Photo of cat food

Fresh water should always be available and don’t forget that hedgehogs need to be able to get into your garden. A CD sized gap in your fence or gate is all that is needed. Talk to your neighbours and try to get as many gardens as possible linked up.Photo of three hedgehogs by feeding station

Green Tinged Fingers?

Since taking over garden duties at “Ratz Manor” my tasks have been pretty much confined to hacking back the briars, in scenes reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty. I have purchased a few cheap plants and thrown them into the ground to take their chances. I was also buoyed by my success with my Alpine trough (although I understand that Alpines are almost impossible to kill).Photo of alpine trough

I was admiring a far more competent gardener’s flowers on Twitter and she very kindly posted me some seeds. I decided to reclaim a flower border that the lawn had encroached onto. The principles of “no dig” gardening appealed to me, so I put newspaper down on the grassy bits, soaked it and covered it with some rough garden compost. I then put down a layer of peat free compost.

Spring arrived and I sowed some of the seeds. We had some late frosts and nothing was growing, so I sowed some more. Of course we then had a heatwave and drought, but I diligently watered them every day. I was perhaps a little over excited when some seedlings started to show themselves. I did a little dance when there was an actual flower bud.

I love the colour of the sulphur cosmos.Photo of orange flower

Cosmos flowers were used to create dye by the inhabitants of America before the Europeans arrived. Indeed they are still being used as a dye now, this website shows you how.Photo of orange flower

The calendula also flowered and in different varieties. These are members of the daisy family and include marigolds. They are often used to decorate Hindu statues.Photo of yellow flower

Calendula petals are edible and can be used in salads and soups. They are also used as a cheap alternative to saffron and used to colour cheese. They can also be used as a fabric dye.Photo of yellow flower

Calendula is considered to have healing properties and was used to treat wounds during the American Civil War and WWI.Photo of yellow flower

Both the cosmos and the calendula have fulfilled their roles in my garden border by looking attractive and being useful to pollinators such as hoverflies.Photo of hoverfly on orange flower

If you wish to see these and other flowers being put to much better effect, see Nadine Mitschunas’ wildlife garden blog here.Photo of hoverfly on yellow flowers

Thick-legged Flower Beetle

This beetle must have one of the best names in the animal kingdom – the thick-legged flower beetle, Oedemera nobilis.photo of flower beetle

It is quite apparent why it has been given this moniker, just look at those thighs! It is only the males that have these swollen looking thighs.flower beetle

The females are rather more mundane.beetle on orange flower

The larvae grow in hollow plant stems emerging as adults to feed on open structured flowers. In my garden they seem to particularly enjoy the rock roses.flower beetle

They do seem to prefer hot sunny days, perhaps to show off their iridescent green metallic jackets.flower beetle

Ashy Mining Bees

The ashy mining bee, Andrena cineraria, is described as being one of the easiest of the solitary bee species to identify. This is how I know one when I see one. black and white bee on white flower

They are black with two ashy grey bands, the males and females are similarly marked, but the females are larger and the males have tufty grey hairs around their face. You can submit a sighting here.black and white bee on white flower

They fly between early April and June. They nest in the ground, sometimes in groups, in lawns and flower beds. They prefer sandy soil and a sunny position.black and white bee on white flower

They feed on a wide variety of blossoms and flowers. In this instance there were four of them feeding on cow parsley. There were also many other bees and hoverflies at the same time, but cow parsley is also a useful food source for butterflies and moths.black and white bee on white flower

Cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris, is often found in woodland and verges. It is a member of the carrot family with distinctive white umbels. It has the fancier name of Queen Anne’s Lace, the common name suggest that it is an inferior parsley. The leaves can indeed be used in salads. However, cow parsley is easily confused with hemlock which is deadly. It is also known as Mother-Die as superstition had it that if it was brought into the house it would kill your mother. The hollow stems can be used as pea shooters.

Yet another name used is kecks, and it is using this term that Shakespeare mentions them in “Henry V”. The Duke of Burgundy refers to them in rather disparaging terms:

Wanting the scythe, all uncorrected, rank,
Conceives by idleness and nothing teems
But hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksies, burs,
Losing both beauty and utility.

Being idle myself I have failed to scythe these kecksies, but the various bees and hoverflies have benefited and personally I find this inferior parsley to be a very attractive plant; a froth of white dancing among the greenery.white flowers

 

 

Hereford in the Snow

Following on from my post about the poppy display at Hereford Cathedral in the snow, here are some more photos from my walk into Hereford City during the Mini Beast from the East’s blizzard.Photo of blossom in snow

I thought this blossom looked very pretty in the snow. At first I thought it might have been blackthorn, but there were no thorns and some green shoots were showing, so I expect it is some sort of cherry plum type thing.Photo of blossom in snow

Far more easy to identify is Holy Trinity church, a Grade II listed building dating from around 1870.Photo of Holy Trinity Church

In the grounds stands a memorial cross dedicated to the men of the parish who died in WWI and WWII. For more information on the memorial, the wording and the names inscribed see this website.Photo of war memorial in churchyard

Regular readers will be familiar with the Bulmers woodpecker. This is my only photograph of it in the snow.Photo of Bulmers woodpecker in snow

Next to it is the WWI memorial poppy bench.Photo of WWI poppy bench

Another opportunity to save my soul; Eignbrook church. It is another lovely building.Photo of Eignbrook church in snow

Now we reach the old medieval walls that used to encircle the City of Hereford. Not much of a deterrent to ingress these days, unlike our traffic system. Note the snow squished daffodils.Photo of part of old wall in snow

This part of the wall was the site of one of the entrances into Hereford and the area is still called Eign Gate.Photo of Eign Gate Hereford in snow

Now we come to the cathedral, it is currently hosting the WWI poppy display “Weeping Window” as mentioned in a previous post.Photo of poppy display Hereford Cathedral

Skipping along to the nearby Old Bridge, we get views of the River Wye ….Photo of River Wye from bridge

… and the other side of the cathedral.Photo of cathedral from bridge

Walking down by the river and sheltering under the New Bridge we have the Old Bridge and cathedral in one direction.Photo of old bridge and cathedral

Hunderton bridge emerges through the blizzard in the other direction.Photo of hunderton bridge in blizzard

Back at the cathedral, Sir Edward Elgar patiently waits for the pot holes to be repaired before it is safe to cycle home to Malvern.

Also left out in the cold is Bully, the sculpture of the iconic Hereford bull.Photo of hereford bull sculpture in snow

He is guarding the Old House. It strikes me that we Herefordians are not very imaginative when it comes to naming things! Photo of Old House in snow

Oh well, time to trudge back home for some hot chocolate.Photo of old house in snow

Astronomical Spring

It was astronomical spring, the vernal equinox, on 20th March 2018. For a brief period it did start to seem spring-like once the Beast from the East had left us, although being the UK obviously it rained. photo of cherry plum blossom and blue sky

The cherry plum buds blossomed.photo of pink cherry plum blossom

One of the local crows decided they were a tasty snack.Photo of crow eating cherry blossoms

The daffodils bounced back.Photo of yellow daffodils with rain drops

The primroses have mostly been eaten, I think by slugs, but I managed to snap one.Photo of yellow primrose with rain drops

The sunshine and the mahonia blossoms brought out the bees. There was a large buff-tailed queen bumblebee but she was too busy to pose for photos. The male hairy footed flower bee was more accommodating. Check out those hairy feet!Photo of hairy footed flower bee

I was very happy to see that he was joined by a female. She has black hairs and doesn’t have the fancy moustache. She also moves too fast for my camera!photo of female hairy footed flower bee

There was also a honey bee.Photo of honey bee on mahonia

And then with two days of winter left to go, the Mini Beast from the East arrived. Can you spot the two robins? One is sitting in the apple tree, the other is on the ground.Photo of apple tree in the snow

Extra sultana rations were provided for the blackbirds. The snow didn’t last long enough to bring the fieldfares back.

The poor hedgehog was too hungry to hibernate again and left some interesting tracks in the snow between the hoghouse and the feeding station. They walk low to the ground so their skirt of prickles ploughs the snow up either side of their footprints.

Meteorological Spring

Meteorological spring commenced 1st March (astronomical spring didn’t start until 20th March). Indeed at the beginning of March the garden had been showing signs of spring. The crocuses opened out to reveal prodigious amounts of pollen for any passing early bumblebee queens.Photo of crocus flower

After weeks of watching the snowdrops sullenly hanging their heads …Photo of snowdrops

… they did this, revealing their green stripey undergarments.

The quince was looking blousey and fabulous as usual.Photo of quince flowers

Even the cherry plum blossom was budding.Photo of cherry plum blossom buds

Then this happened: Dubbed the Beast from the East, a wintry blast of cold air from Siberia brought 27cm of snow to Hereford.Photo of ruler in snow

The snowdrops’ new found confidence was cruelly squished.Photo of snowdrops squashed by snow

The quince managed to keep looking sassy though.

The hedgehogs that had just woken from hibernation decided to go back to bed, which was just as well as they would have needed a mini digger to get into their feeding station.

The mouse managed to tunnel out.Photo of mouse hole in snow

The garden did have a bleak beauty to it though.

We worked around the clock to keep the water from freezing and to put out extra rations for the birds. Mostly blackbirds.

A couple of robins.

Blackcap.Black cap drinking

Chaffinch.

Long tailed tits.

Wren playing hide and seek as usual.wren in foliage

The snow brought a new visitor to the garden, a fieldfare, Turdus pilaris.  They belong to the thrush family and are usually found in social flocks in the countryside. They frequent hedgerows feeding on berries and insects. Most of the fieldfares seen in the UK migrate here from Scandinavia during the winter.fieldfare in the snow

Later around four fieldfares turned up, bullying the blackbirds for a share of the apples. As soon as the snow left, so did they.

Poppies at Hereford Cathedral

Sunday 18th March 2018, the UK winter was having its last hurrah with the “Mini Beast from the East” bringing biting Siberian winds and even more snow. As you know I can never resist a little stroll in a blizzard; this time I visited Hereford Cathedral.Photo of Hereford Cathedral in the snow

I thought the art installation currently there, “Weeping Window” would look good and even more poignant in the snow.Photo of poppy display Hereford Cathedral

This work was created by artist Paul Cummins and designed by Tom Piper. Along with “Wave” it formed the basis of “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” at the Tower of London at the start of the WWI Centenary in 2014.Photo of poppy display Hereford Cathedral

It can be seen at Hereford Cathedral until 29th April 2018 after which it will go on tour. You can find more details on their website or search #PoppiesTour on Twitter.Photo of poppy display Hereford Cathedral

The cascade comprises several thousand hand made ceramic poppies, representing the lives lost during World War I.Photo of poppy display Hereford Cathedral

The Cathedral in Hereford will be hosting other events focusing on the home front during WWI. Not only did Herefordshire provide recruits for military action, most notably Suvla Bay in Gallipoli, but also workers for the local munitions factory and of course the vital farm work providing food. More information can be found on their website.Photo of poppy display Hereford Cathedral

Snowdrops

February is the month we associate with snowdrops, scientific name Galanthus which is Greek for ‘milk flower’.Photo of snowdrop

It is a common flower across Europe, introduced to the UK in the sixteenth century, and is a welcome sign of spring. Their seeds are particularly tasty to ants, this is how snowdrops are spread. Or gardeners can dig them up after flowering to separate some bulbs to transplant elsewhere. Snowdrops also provide nectar for bumblebees and other insects waking from hibernation. They thrive in deciduous woodland, flowering before the leaf canopy is formed to make the most of the winter sunlight.Photo of snowdrops

An alternative name for snowdrops is Candlemas bells, as they tend to appear at the start of February to coincide with the Christian festival of light. In Pagan times this was the festival of Imbolc, half way between the winter and spring equinoxes. This was a fire festival celebrated by lighting candles and marked the beginning of the lambing season. The snowdrop is the symbol of the fertility goddess Brigid who was honoured at Imbolc; she was later transformed into St Bridget.Photo of snowdrops

Traditionally snowdrops are not picked to be displayed indoors as they are considered unlucky. Due to their white, shroud-like tepals and their proximity to the ground, they are associated with the dead.Photo of snowdrops

It is thought that the snowdrop might be the herb “Moly” referred to in Homer’s “Odyssey”. Described as a white flower dangerous for mortals to pluck, it was given to Odysseus by the god Hermes to protect him from Circe’s poison. Snowdrops contain the alkaloid galantamine which acts as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. This chemical has been used to treat disorders of the central nervous system and more recently is being used to counter the effects of Alzheimer’s. In the case of Odysseus’ men it perhaps counteracted the delusion caused by an anticholinergic drug making them believe that they were pigs.Photo of snowdrops

Renowned nature lover, daffodil fan and poet, William Wordsworth saw fit to mention the humble snowdrop in his Two-Part Ballad 1888, the entirety of which you can read here, but this is the relevant part:photo of snowdrops

I began
My story early, feeling, as I fear,
The weakness of a human love for days
Disowned by memory, ere the birth of spring
Planting my snowdrops among winter snows

During World War II, the British referred to US military police as “snowdrops” because they wore white helmets. It is also the affectionate nickname for the RAF police in the UK, as this quote from the ARRSE website shows they are held in high regard, “….they take a perverse pleasure in confiscating Leatherman tools and Swiss army knives  from heavily armed soldiers, and X-raying rifles, pistols and other tools of the military trade to ensure that there is nothing dangerous hidden inside them.”Photo of snowdrops

If you want to know more about the different cultivars of snowdrops you can download Mick Crawley’s pdf guide to identifying snowdrops here.photo of snowdrop

Hints of Things to Come

Following on from “Green Shoots” I have become weary of waiting for the snowdrops to flower, they are being most laggardly.Photo of snowdrops emerging

They have been overtaken by the ornamental quince which is actually producing blooms.Photo of quince flowersThe promise of more pink from the cherry plum tree.Photo of cherry plum blossom buds

The crocuses emerged first from the cracks in the path. Photo of crocuses

They are now rising up from the lawn like Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton army.Photo of crocuses on lawn

Even the daffodils are threatening to bloom before them.Photo of daffodils emergingStill in the yellow corner we have the dependable winter jasmine.Photo of winter jasmine yellow flower

The mahonia promises some early nectar for any eager bees.Photo of yellow mahonia blossoms

And in the blue corner we have the periwinkle.photo of blue periwinkle flower

Last, but not forgotten, the first forget-me-not of the year has upturned its face.photo of blue forget-me-not flower

As ever, all garden activity is overseen by the ever watchful robin.

Big Garden Birdwatch 2018 – My Results

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch took place over the weekend. It was raining and windy which seems to put some birds off from visiting garden feeders. Unusually I didn’t see any sparrows at all this year.Photo of sparrows sitting in tree

Another thing that may have put some of the birds off was the presence of the sparrowhawk, I captured a blurry image of her on the camera trap.Infrared photo of sparrowhawk

There were at least 8 different blackbirds.Photo of male blackbird

Rock/feral pigeons = 11Photo of pigeon

Chaffinches = 3Photo of chaffinch

Collared doves = 2Photo of collared doves

Wood pigeons = 2Photo of woodpigeon

Starling = 1Photo of starling

Magpie = 1Photo of magpie

Dunnock = 1Photo of dunnock

Robin = 1Photo of robin

Wren = 1Photo of wren

Blue tit = 1Photo of blue tit

Great tit = 1Photo of great tit

Black cap = 1Photo of black cap

I was very disappointed that the great spotted woodpecker, jackdaws and crows didn’t turn up. Although more than anything I’m wondering what I have done to upset the sparrows as they were the most sighted bird by others.

The hedgehogs are still hibernating, but the squirrels are as frisky as ever.Photo of squirrel

Here are my results interpreted by the RSPB.Chart of top 10 birds seen

Here are the RSPB nationwide results so far.Chart of RSPB national results of bird survey

Apologies for the poor quality pictures, bird photography is not my forte!

 

 

#BigGardenBirdwatch 2018

The 2018 Big Garden Birdwatch is upon us. Run by the RSPB it takes place over three days between 27th-29th January. All you need to do is spend one hour watching the birds in the garden, park or even supermarket carpark and record the different species that you see.Photo of coal tit

You can download a free pack with all the details that you need, plus some great information about how you can help birds and other wildlife, from the RSPB here. The recording is for the UK only, but the information pack will be useful for other parts of the World too, and it is an enjoyable thing to do just for the heck of it.