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

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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.

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.

The Liebster Award

I was very kindly nominated for an award by a fellow rat fan and haphazard gardener. Thank you.

My favourite blogs would be:
https://gardeningamateur.wordpress.com/
https://ownedbyrats.wordpress.com/
https://tootlepedal.wordpress.com/
https://thewildenmarshblog.com/about/
https://littlesilverhedgehog.wordpress.com/
https://madcapdog.wordpress.com/
https://skyblue43.wordpress.com/
https://vickialfordnatureblog.wordpress.com/
https://appletonwildlifediary.wordpress.com/
https://petalsandwings.blog/
https://youngfermanaghnaturalist.com/

Too many lovely blogs to list. I don’t know whether the above blogs have less than 400 followers, probably not, but I’m breaking all of the rules of this award.

I like blogs written by kind people with a love of nature and animals and I hope that description covers mine.

The Random Gardener

This blog has had a nomination for the Liebster Award from the very interesting Mrs N’s Ordinary Life – as with a lot of these awards there is a follow-up, of course! The idea is to answer eleven questions set by your nominator and then to nominate eleven blogs which have fewer than 200 followers with the aim of increasing traffic to them; flattered though I am to be nominated, here I hit my first stumbling block as it seems quite hard to find out just how many followers someone has and I don’t like to bother people.

On the whole, while these awards give you a nice warm glow I suspect that they have limited reach and are really aimed at new blogs, to get them going. The Liebster is not an official, endorsed-by-WordPress thing, so with that in mind I’m not going to follow the instructions to the…

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Winter Buds

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.Photo of quince buds

Then the lilac.Photo of lilac buds

The forsythia has even managed a bloom.Photo of forsythia

Other people in the UK are reporting snowdrops and even daffodils in flower, but there are no signs of these in the garden yet.

Snowy Garden

If I haven’t already bored you with my photos of snow in hereford parts one and two, brace yourselves for more of the white stuff.Photo of snowy fence

Even a dull suburban garden can be turned into a Narnia type winter wonderland.Photo of snowy garden

The evergreen yew tree was groaning under the weight of the snow. Photo of snow laden yew tree

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.Photo of apple tree in snow

The apple tree also provided some shelter under which I provided food and fresh water for the birds.

And the squirrel.Photo of squirrel on snowy tree

The squirrels were busy in other parts of the garden also.

There were some impressive icicles on the buildings.Photo of icicles

There were also icicles on the plants.Photo of icicles on ivy berries

And clumps of icy snow adorning most surfaces.

Snow! In Hereford! – Part Two

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.Photo of snow at dawn

I finally got my snowy dawn photos.Photo of snow at dawn

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.Photo of snow at dawn

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.Photo of snow at dawn

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.

Photo of snow berries

Snow Berries in the Snow

Perhaps if non-essential workers were given time off work during heavy snowfall people could relax and have fun in the snow.

Photo of dog in snow

Nice Weather for Dogs

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.Photo of snow at dawn

Whatever your opinion is of snow, surely we can all agree it does make the scenery pretty.Photo of snow at dawn

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.Photo of snow at dawnA 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.Photo of snow at dawn

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.Photo of snow at dawn

And yes I do still have some more snowy pictures left over for another post.

 

Snow! In Hereford!

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.Photo of snow

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.Photo of 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.Photo of snow

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.Photo of snow

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.Photo of 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.Photo of snow

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.Photo of snow

Although the ice that forms snow is clear the crystal shapes reflect light around causing snow to appear white.Photo of snow

Snowflakes tend to fall between 1 – 4 mph and each one is unique.Photo of snow

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.Photo of snow

At this point I am starting to not be able to feel my face.Photo of snow

The trees look pretty though, very Christmassy.Photo of snow

Farewell bridge.Photo of snow

Hello civilisation … maybe.Photo of snow

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.Photo of snow

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.Photo of snow

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.

Photo of snow

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.Photo of snow

Still, the streetlights provided some spooky atmospheric lighting to the snow.

Photo of snow

One last look at the snow laden trees.Photo of snow

Then another, then it was time to head home.Photo of snow

For those of you who like your snow moving, I posted a short clip on You Tube here: https://youtu.be/Iwou1e2JHtk

December 2017 Supermoon

December 3rd 2017 saw the only Supermoon (perigee syzygy) of 2017. Photo of moon

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.Photo of moon

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.Photo of moon

A supermoon appears slightly larger and brighter than a regular moon, though it is difficult to discern the difference.Photo of moon

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.

High Speed Snail

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.Photo of snail on window

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.Photo of snail on window

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.Photo of snail on window

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. Photo of snail on window

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.

Drawing of girdled snail love dart

Hygromia cinctella love dart. By Joris M. Koene and Hinrich Schulenburg [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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.Photo of snail on window

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. Photo of snail on window

I was struck by the shell markings and fancy I see a leaf pattern.Photo of snail on leaf