Compared with other parts of the UK my snowdrops are slacking. They are only just starting to poke their green shoots above ground.
The flowering currant might yet burst forth before them.
Compared with other parts of the UK my snowdrops are slacking. They are only just starting to poke their green shoots above ground.
The flowering currant might yet burst forth before them.
All of the snow and frost that we have had lately seems to have kick started the process of vernalisation. A wide range of plants require a cold spell to promote the formation of flower buds or to awaken a dormant bud. First up, the quince.
Then the lilac.
The forsythia has even managed a bloom.
Other people in the UK are reporting snowdrops and even daffodils in flower, but there are no signs of these in the garden yet.
Even a dull suburban garden can be turned into a Narnia type winter wonderland.
The evergreen yew tree was groaning under the weight of the snow.
It sprang back afterwards, demonstrating why yew was used to make longbows as it can bend under a lot of tension without snapping.
The deciduous apple tree having shed its delicate leaves was able to take the weight on its sturdy branches.
The apple tree also provided some shelter under which I provided food and fresh water for the birds.
And the squirrel.
The squirrels were busy in other parts of the garden also.
There were some impressive icicles on the buildings.
There were also icicles on the plants.
And clumps of icy snow adorning most surfaces.
Following on from my post about my excitable jaunt through the blizzard on 10 December 2017, I went for another walk two days later once it had settled.
I finally got my snowy dawn photos.
I’m sure my friends in Scandinavia, Russia and North America etc are wondering what all the fuss is about. Well, I’m like a big kid and we very rarely get any snow that sticks in Hereford, at least not in recent years.
Indeed most of the UK gets very little deep snow which is why we are so poorly equipped to deal with it when it does happen. We don’t own snow chains for our cars, local authorities don’t invest in equipment to clear snow and so the nation grinds to a halt.
People still hop into their cars determined to get to work, no doubt terrified of losing a promotion, or even the job itself. As we have so little experience of driving in snow people often come a cropper.
Perhaps if non-essential workers were given time off work during heavy snowfall people could relax and have fun in the snow.
I also take the point that it is deadly serious if you are homeless or can’t afford to heat the home you have got, but those are social issues that should be remedied and not really the fault of the weather.
Whatever your opinion is of snow, surely we can all agree it does make the scenery pretty.
It is also important not to confuse weather with climate. There is an overwhelming body of evidence that global temperatures are rising and agreement amongst climate scientists that the cause is man made. The predictions for a warming climate are for more extreme weather events, this includes cold ones. For more information about climate change with easy to understand facts and myths debunked see the NASA website; it even settles the debate about whether cow belches or cow farts produce more methane.A less than cheery fact for you; every winter around 100 people in the USA die from shovelling snow. Using your arms not your legs is more strenuous; heart rate and blood pressure increase. This combined with the cold air causing arteries to restrict creates the perfect ingredients for a heart attack. So, take it easy and wear a hat.
On the plus side, shovelling snow burns approximately 233 calories per 30 minutes. This means that with Easter just around the corner you can reward yourself with a 150 calorie Cadbury Creme Egg and still lose weight.
And yes I do still have some more snowy pictures left over for another post.
Happy New Year, Gott Nyttar, с новым годом, Prosit Neujahr, Bonne Annee, Feliz Ano Nuevo, Gelukkige Nuwe Jaar, Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, Khushi Nayam Varsa, Xin Nian Kuaile, Nav Varsh Ki Subhkamna, Aremahite Omedieto Gozaimasu. I wish you all the very best in 2018.
In the UK it is traditional to kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas. Mistletoe is a symbolic kissing plant due to the Norse legend of Baldur. Baldur the son of Odin and Frigg was killed by a spear of mistletoe, but then resurrected. Henceforth, a grateful Frigg vowed to kiss anybody she caught strolling under the repentant mistletoe. However, in another interpretation of this legend Frigg declares that mistletoe be a symbol of peace and good luck. During WWI it was common for silk cards embroidered with mistletoe to be given as good luck tokens, and it was the custom in France to give mistletoe at New Year; “Au gui l’An neuf” (Mistletoe for the New Year).
In addition to the Whitefriars Cross mentioned in my previous post, The Cross at Whitecross, Hereford also has a Blackfriars Cross.
This is to be found closer to the centre of Hereford City in the ruins of the Dominican Blackfriars Monastery. The friary was established in 1322, with the preaching cross in the cemetery. The preacher would stand inside the structure and proselytize to whoever gathered to listen. The nearby Coningsby Hospital was originally built in 1200 by the Knights’ Hospitallers, the crusading knights of the Order of St John.
The preaching cross is a very rare example, I have read that it is the only surviving example. The cross was pretty much just a ruin when the famous artist Turner painted it. As with the Whitefriars Cross, the Victorians restored the preaching cross in 1864. They seemed to be fond of using their new found industrial skills to take care of our history.
In 1538 the monastery was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries when Henry VIII disbanded such properties to raise money for his military campaigns after his spectacular falling out with the Pope. It was also considered by many that there were too many religious orders owning too much property and wealth.
These photos were taken on a film camera in the 1990s and digitally scanned.
There is an area of Hereford known as Whitecross, named after the cross standing in the middle of the roundabout where two main routes into the city converge. I passed the cross during my stroll during the blizzard mentioned in a previous post; Snow! In Hereford!
Originally known as the Whitefriars Cross, after the religious order, it was erected in the 14th Century. The hexagonal base is still the original, made of local sandstone, whereas the cross itself was restored in 1864. It required further repairs in 2005 after a car crashed into it.
The base consists of eight steps, one of which is below ground level, a pedestal and socket stone. The pedestal has six recessed panels which were decorated and include the coats of arms of the Charleton family. It is topped by a foliated Latin cross. Lewis de Charleton was the Bishop of Hereford 1361-9 and it was he who instigated the erection of the cross.
The purpose of the standing cross was to mark the position of a market place that was set up during the second outbreak of plague when people were too afraid to enter the City. Items brought out of the City were dipped in large resevoirs of vinegar kept on either side of the cross to disinfect them. Also coins were left in the vinegar vats to pay for food that had been brought to the outskirts of the City from the countryside. This second outbreak of plague reduced the population of Hereford from 3,000 to just over 1,000.
The second plague pandemic is better known as The Black Death, it reached England in 1360, lasted for three years and killed approximately 800,000 people, around 20% of the population. It was a pneumonic plague caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria. During the first outbreak in 1349 the relics of St Thomas Cantilupe were taken from Hereford Cathedral and paraded around the City in an unsuccessful attempt to thwart the outbreak.
I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas; Frohe Weihnachten; Joyeux Noel; Kreesmasko Shubhkaamnaa; ‘S Rozhdestvom Khristovym; God Jul; Feliz Navidad; Meri Kurisumasu; Sheng dan Kuai Le; Shubh Krismas; Geseende Kersfees.
Christmas is a time for family, friends and merriment. However, for some it is also a poignant time of year when bereavement and losses are felt keenly. My thoughts are with those who are feeling sad and lonely at this time of year.
It’s not that it never snows in Hereford, but it seems to be becoming increasingly rare. When it does snow it tends to be fleeting and doesn’t stick.
However, 10th December 2017 in the wee small hours it started to snow and it didn’t stop all day. I decided to take a short walk early in the morning as I hadn’t been expecting it to last. The street lights were still lit illuminating the falling snow.
Hereford is situated in what meteorologists call a “rain shadow area”. Most of our weather is blown in from the Atlantic, the moist air hits the Welsh mountains where it is forced to rise. The barometric pressure is lower at high altitudes which has a cooling effect. This condenses the moist air into water droplets which are shed as rain or, when it is very cold, snow. Once over the Welsh mountains the less moist air descends and warms and so is more able to contain what moisture remains. Hence Hereford gets a lot less rain and snow than the Brecon Beacons.
Although Hereford did get a lot of snow, 18cm/7″ in our garden (20cm was recorded in Hereford), Sennybridge in the Brecon Beacons was deluged with 33cm/13″. In fact Hereford’s climate is described as being wet, just not as wet as Wales.
I had been expecting to see lots of dogs gamboling about in the snow, but the place was deserted. There were footprints so I was not the first. I hate ruining pristine snow.
I had also been hoping to take a sparkling snowy sunrise photo, but if anything it seemed to get darker as the snowfall became faster and heavier.
What even is snow anyway? Apparently snowflakes are formed when water droplets are supercooled around particles in the atmosphere. The particular shape the crystals form depends on temperature, moisture density and a whole load of other complex variables.
Although the ice that forms snow is clear the crystal shapes reflect light around causing snow to appear white.
Snowflakes tend to fall between 1 – 4 mph and each one is unique.
Here we are at the bridge. Hopefully the troll is still asleep and the snow will muffle my clippity-clopping and trip-trapping.
The babbling brook bubbles along through the blanketed banks.
The indigenous people of Nunavik in Canada have 53 words for snow, including “qanik” meaning falling snow.
At this point I am starting to not be able to feel my face.
The trees look pretty though, very Christmassy.
Hello civilisation … maybe.
The driving conditions were dire, but there were still a few people who felt the need to venture out on a Sunday morning. Perhaps the people we depend upon such as emergency or medical personnel.
I did see a gritter lorry with a snow plough attached, but it didn’t seem to be using it. Snowflakes were also accumulating on the camera lens creating interesting lens flare.
I did contemplate crossing the “road” and walking through the field but it seemed to be getting darker, I was getting colder and the camera was getting wetter.
I stood under a tree for a bit of shelter. Dear reader, learn from my mistake; a large clump of snow slid off a branch and slithered down the back of my neck.
Still, the streetlights provided some spooky atmospheric lighting to the snow.
One last look at the snow laden trees.
Then another, then it was time to head home.
For those of you who like your snow moving, I posted a short clip on You Tube here: https://youtu.be/Iwou1e2JHtk
December 3rd 2017 saw the only Supermoon (perigee syzygy) of 2017.
Regular readers will know that I have a difficult relationship with moon photography, but that doesn’t stop me making yet another attempt and sharing the results, no matter how ropey.
The elliptical path the moon takes around the Earth sometimes brings it closer to us, this is the meaning of the term perigee. When it coincides with a full moon, it is known as a Supermoon. Syzygy is the Greek term for “yoked together” and refers to the Sun, the Moon and the Earth being aligned; we see a full or a new moon when this occurs.
A supermoon appears slightly larger and brighter than a regular moon, though it is difficult to discern the difference.
There will be two supermoons in January 2018 on the 1st and the 31st. The latter will also be a blue moon (the second full moon within the same month). As if that wasn’t exciting enough; in some parts of the northern hemisphere there will be a lunar eclipse making this a Super Blue Blood Moon!
I did have better luck with the sunrise though.
It was a cold rain sodden morning (well I am in the UK) and I had to run some errands in my car. Looking out through my side window I discovered that I had a hitchhiker. There was a small snail sliding slowly through the rain drops.
I drove to my next destination very carefully, especially when cornering, wishing I had a sign, “Snail on board” so that other drivers would understand my caution. The mucus was strong in this one, he held on.
Thanks to a very knowledgeable chap on Twitter @BrianE_Cambs I later found out that my stowaway was a girdled snail, Hygromia cinctella. These snails originated in the Mediterranean region and are believed to have been introduced to the UK around 1950. Since the 1970s they have spread rapidly throughout the UK probably in plant pots, on animals and judging by this one by our road transport system. Although they are an invasive species they don’t seem to have caused any harm. Surprisingly given where they originate from they are active in cold weather, which is no doubt why this one was exploring my car on a chilly morning.
The last whorl of their shell is sharply keeled and often white giving rise to their descriptive name of girdled snail. The shell can be different colours, is slightly translucent and striated.
They are one of the species of snail that employ love darts during their courtship. Snails are hermaphrodites, having both male and female reproductive organs which are situated in their heads. The love dart, or gypsobelum to give it its boring name, is comprised of calcium carbonate. It is stored in a muscular sac. It is fired into the other snail prior to mating and has been known to pierce organs or even go right through the victim’s head! The purpose of the dart seems to be as a delivery system for allohormone laden mucus. This chemical triggers biophysical changes in the recipient snail so that when sperm is later transferred from the darting snail it is able to fertilize the eggs rather than being digested. This is very much an over simplification of a very complicated system, but you get the idea. Maybe Cupid’s arrows were dreamed up by a Greek fond of watching snails mate.I digress! I’m sure you are all wondering if the snail managed to cling on. He made it to the next stop. The flash lighting up the raindrops with the dark background make him look as though he has gone into space.
I am happy to say that the motoring mollusc made it back safely and was transferred to some shrubbery to live out his life at a snail’s pace.
I was struck by the shell markings and fancy I see a leaf pattern.
After so many storms there doesn’t seem to be many colourful autumnal leaves left on the trees. However, there is still autumn colour to be found. The smoke tree seems to have managed to retain most of its leaves, sheltered by the conifers.
A snapdragon plant that I bought cheaply from a DIY store on account of it being nearly dead has made a remarkable recovery despite my care and has started to flower.
The last of the cyclamens are blooming on the lawn.
The golden rod has gone to seed and is now more of a silvery rod.
Michaelmas daisies are paying no heed to the religious calendar.
There is always herb Robert to be found.
The purple bee lavender is looking glorious, but watch for lurking spiders when you admire it.
Evening primrose is the best substitute for the missing yellow disc in the sky.
Fox and cubs are a blaze of orange amongst the murk.
And of course we have the usual autumnal suspects of berries …
As it is nearly All Hallow’s Eve, the night when the souls of the dead are supposed to return to the mortal realm, I though it would be apposite to post about a cemetery stroll. This is especially true as I believe I am acquainted with more souls in Hereford Cemetery than in the rest of the City!
The last time I took you on a Graveyard Bimble it was the middle of summer. Now as we are well into autumn the place is even more windswept and barren.
I visited shortly after dawn on a rainy morn.
There is still autumn colour to be found.And the gardener had made good use of some ornamental grasses.The nearly bare trees made beautiful outlines against the moody skies.
“Grandpa Ratz” is the latest family member to book in to Hereford Cemetery’s bed and board. His flowers survived Storm Brian and added a splash of colour to the bleakness.
He loved flowers and I’m sure he would have approved of these.
So here’s to all souls past and present; have a safe and enjoyable Hallowe’en.
The ivy is starting to flower and combined with some sunshine it lures in the pollinators. This pristine red admiral butterfly (Vanessa Atalanta) sunned itself on the nearby laurel leaves.
It tried a variety of poses so that I could get its best side.Most of these butterflies migrate to the UK from central Europe in May and June. As the climate has become generally milder some hibernate in the south of England.
The butterflies that are emerging now are the brood that have hatched here.
The adults feed from a variety of nectar sources, they are also partial to rotting fruit.They lay their eggs on the larval food plant, nettles.Having posed sufficiently, the butterfly then had a tasty snack of ivy nectar.The ivy also attracted a rather tatty comma butterfly, along with some bees and hoverflies.
August was a bit of wash out, but we did have a couple of sunny days which brought out the insects. This golden shimmering hoverfly, Xylota segnis for one.
The yellow rose was the sun lounger of choice for this hoverfly, one of the Eristalis family I believe.
The goldenrod is a regular favourite for the honeybees.
This bumblebee was having to get at the cyclamen upside down.
The bees decided to freshen up on the mint flowers.
The mint moths were inevitably to be found there too.
Also lurking in the mint was this green shield bug nymph.
The speckled wood butterfly decided the ivy was the best place to catch some much needed rays.
It is a good job I am too lazy to dead-head my purple bee lavender. They provide the perfect camouflage for these shieldbugs.
I believe they are hairy shieldbugs, formerly called sloe shieldbugs, Dolycoris baccarum. They are covered in tiny hairs, and have distinctive banding on their antennae and connexivum. During the summer they are more of a purple colour becoming browner as we head into autumn.
They overwinter as adults, often nestling in dead leaves. Despite their former name they don’t have a penchant for blackthorn, but can be found on a large range of plants.
I can tell that she is a female by the large scimitar shaped ovipositor, for laying eggs, at the back end.
In keeping with our tradition of having more plants blooming on the paths than in the borders, the paving cracks are bursting forth with these cheery yellow hawkweed flowers.
Hawkweeds are related to dandelions and are members of the Asteraceae family, genus hierakion. The name is derived from the Greek word for hawk, hierax, folklore has it that hawks drank the juice of this plant to sharpen their eyesight. There are many different species of hawkweed and a great deal of variation within them. The only one that I can confidently identify is the orange hawkweed, Pilosella aurantiaca, commonly known as “fox and cubs”. It is a beautiful wildflower that is in the RHS top 400 perfect plants for pollinators.
The delightfully named mouse ear hawkweed was a folk medicine for coughs. The apothecary to James I, John Parkinson, also suggested it as a sedative for horses, ‘Mouseare’ be given to any horse it ‘will cause that he shall not be hurt by the smith that shooeth him.’
On one of the few sunny days that we had this summer I found that the hawkweed was being enjoyed by this little solitary bee. A kind person suggested that it was likely to be of the genus Lasioglossum.
Another hawkweed hoverer was this drone hoverfly, a bee mimic.
As you can see it is doing a fantastic job of collecting and redistributing pollen.
I am not clever enough to tell whether it is Eristalis pertinax or Eristalis tenax.
Tenax has black ankles and pertinax has yellow ankles, so it is all down to the hoverfly’s ankles rather than the bee’s knees.The goldenrod was another bright yellow flower attracting pollinating insects.
I am starting this post with a pretty picture, in the hope that this picture will be the one displayed in the WordPress Reader and my tweet. Once you get past this picture the text and images will take on a more grisly nature.
Back in March I found a pool of blood near the bird table and then noticed the feathers fluttering about on the lawn.
Closer inspection revealed the body of a pigeon. The aura of plucked feathers indicated that the bird had been killed by a sparrowhawk. Past experience told me that she would be back in the morning to finish her meal, so I positioned my wildlife camera to capture the event.
The poor hen pigeon was in the process of forming an egg when death came mercilessly upon her from above.
The early bird gets an egg for breakfast. The first visitor was a magpie who snatched the egg from the pigeon’s body and flew off with it.
Shortly afterwards the sparrowhawk arrived and proceeded to further pluck and eat her meal. When the pigeon had been reduced in weight she flew off with the remains of the carcass to eat somewhere safer.
It is a female sparrowhawk that visits our garden. She is larger and browner than the male. Traditionally these birds are woodland hunters; highly manoeuvrable, their tactic is to hide in cover and ambush other birds with a brief chase.
Habitat loss, persecution by game keepers and the use of a now banned pesticide saw their numbers crash. Being an apex predator they are susceptible to bioaccumulation, whereby the poisons ingested but not excreted in prey build up; firstly in insects, then the birds that feed on the insects and finally the raptors that feed on those birds. However, they are now recovering and have learnt that our gardens are a useful resource for them.
It seems that the larger females are generally more likely to be found in urban gardens where they take down blackbirds and the larger doves and pigeons, while the smaller males are pursuing song birds in woodlands.
There are some more facts, literature and historical fancies in my previous post Sparrowhawk here. If you wish to watch a video of the sparrowhawk eating her breakfast you can watch it on You Tube here. The end.
I don’t think that this has been a very good summer for butterflies. After the mini heatwave in June the UK has seen a wet, windy and chilly July to coincide with the Big Butterfly Count. Sadly I have not seen a peacock butterfly here for a few years.
Most of the butterflies that I spotted this year were very busy flitting about rather than resting for photographs. I did record 1 large white, 1 green veined white, 2 speckled woods, 1 comma, 1 red admiral and 2 holly blues.
The 2016 results showed that butterflies are generally having a tough time and I expect this year to be no better. Butterfly conservation have a web page with information, ideas and links to help you to attract butterflies to your garden, even if you just have a window box. It is also important to think of food plants for their caterpillars.