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

November Colour

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.Photo of smoke tree autumnal leaves

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.Photo of cyclamen

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.Photo of michaelmas daisies

There is always herb Robert to be found.Photo of herb Robert

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.Photo of evening primrose

Fox and cubs are a blaze of orange amongst the murk.Photo of fox and cubs

And of course we have the usual autumnal suspects of berries …

…and fungi.

A Cemetery Stroll

Photo of chapelAs 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!Photo of cemetery

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.Photo of cemetery

I visited shortly after dawn on a rainy morn.Photo of tree

There is still autumn colour to be found.Photo of autumn leavesAnd the gardener had made good use of some ornamental grasses.Photo of cemetery gardenThe 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.Photo of sunset

Ahoy There Red Admiral!

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.Photo of red admiral

It tried a variety of poses so that I could get its best side.Photo of red admiralMost 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.Photo of red admiral

The butterflies that are emerging now are the brood that have hatched here.Photo of red admiral

The adults feed from a variety of nectar sources, they are also partial to rotting fruit.Photo of red admiralThey lay their eggs on the larval food plant, nettles.Photo of red admiralHaving posed sufficiently, the butterfly then had a tasty snack of ivy nectar.Photo of red admiralThe ivy also attracted a rather tatty comma butterfly, along with some bees and hoverflies.

 

 

 

 

Sunny Buzzers and Minty Loungers

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.Photo of speckled bush cricket nymph

The speckled wood butterfly decided the ivy was the best place to catch some much needed rays.Photo of speckled wood butterfly

Hairy Shieldbugs

It is a good job I am too lazy to dead-head my purple bee lavender. They provide the perfect camouflage for these shieldbugs.Photo of shieldbug

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.Photo of shieldbug

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 also spotted this speckled bush cricket on my rhododendron. I think I might have startled her as she proceeded to take a poo.Photo of speckled bush cricket

I can tell that she is a female by the large scimitar shaped ovipositor, for laying eggs, at the back end.

 

Hawkweed Hoverers

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.photo of cat's ear

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.Photo of fox-and-cubs

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.Photo of bee on hawkweed

Another hawkweed hoverer was this drone hoverfly, a bee mimic. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

As you can see it is doing a fantastic job of collecting and redistributing pollen. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

I am not clever enough to tell whether it is Eristalis pertinax or Eristalis tenax. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

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.Photo of hoverfly on hawkweedThe goldenrod was another bright yellow flower attracting pollinating insects.

 

Sparrowhawk’s Breakfast

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.Photo of bee in evening primrose

Back in March I found a pool of blood near the bird table and then noticed the feathers fluttering about on the lawn.  Photo of pigeon blood

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.Photo of feathers on lawn

The poor hen pigeon was in the process of forming an egg when death came mercilessly upon her from above.Photo of dead pigeon

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.Photo of magpie

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.Photo of sparrowhawk

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.Photo of sparrowhawk

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.Photo of sparrowhawk

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.Photo of sparrowhawk

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.Photo of sparrowhawk

Big Butterfly Count 2017

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. photo of peacock butterfly

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.

Evening Primrose

As the name suggests the evening primrose, family Onagraceae, flowers during the evening and throughout the night. The flowers are supposed to last until noon. These particular flowers in my garden look just like evening primrose, but they flower all day and all night. Unless someone can tell me otherwise I shall assume that they are indeed evening primrose, but perhaps a variety that flowers all blooming day!

They are American natives that were introduced to the UK in the 1600s. They are also known as “Sundrop” or “Evening Star”. I believe that all of the plant is edible, but the roots were particularly favoured as a meal. Native Americans also used the leaves to make tea. The seeds are a source of Gamma-Linolenic Acid and the oil from the seeds is used in many herbal preparations.Photo of evening primrose

They are an important food source for moths which feed on the nectar, pollinating the plant in return. During the day the same relationship is courted with bumblebees and other bees.Photo of bee in evening primrose

The pollen is large and connected by stringy viscin threads, made from sap. These web-like pollen clumps can be seen hanging off the legs of bees as they fly off from the flower. You can see what the pollen looks like under an electron microscope here.

Not only is this big blousy plant attractive to look at, beautifully scented and good for attracting pollinators such as bees and moths, but you can also eat it. There are a couple of recipe ideas here.Photo of evening primrose

Down by the Roadside

Down by the roadside doesn’t sound quite as bucolic as down by the riverside, but here we are. You might be surprised by what gems of nature you can find on a roadside verge. Since the 1930s it is estimated that we have lost 97% of our wildflower meadows. With agricultural fields becoming patches of pesticide soaked monoculture crops our native wildflowers are clinging to the edges.Photo of field through hedge

Many rare wildflowers are to found on our roadside verges such as betony, ragged-Robin, orchids and fen ragwort. Plantlife have produced a report about wildflowers on verges which you can download and read here. Photo of fluffy seed head

However, even here this precious ecosystem is in danger. Understandably local councils need to ensure visibility for drivers, but Plantlife feel that they are cutting too much and too soon. They would like councils to wait until the flowers have seeded before cutting back. You can petition your local council from Plantlife’s website here.Photo of roadside verge and field

I took some photographs of just a small section of verge recently. I didn’t find anything rare, but it was buzzing with bees and looked so pretty. Photo of bees on brambles

I believe it was mostly cow parsley (or one of its carrot relatives), buttercups, red clover and a variety of grasses. Photo of grassy verge

The verge is augmented by a hedgerow full of bramble flowers and dog roses. At other times of the year this hedge has blackthorn and hawthorn blossoms.

So the next time you stop your car in a lay-by or take a stroll along a road side verge, take a look and see what you can find.

Grasses

If the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, what do you get if you sit on the plain? Answer at the end of the post.Photo of ribwort plantain growing on lawn

So in the interest of botanical curiosity and nothing at all to do with idleness, I didn’t mow the lawn for the month of May and this is what grew. Firstly there was a lot of Ribwort plantain, Plantago lanceolata. The tiny flowers attract small butterflies and moths and in the autumn the seeds provide food for birds. The leaves are used in herbal teas and are said to be good for relieving coughs.Photo of ribwort plantain

There were a few different types of grass that I have not had time to identify. The long grasses with their attractive seed heads somehow seem evocative of carefree childhood summers. Unless of course you spent a childhood cursed by hayfever.  Photo of grass

Grasses are flowering plants that are wind pollinated. Their pollen is very small so that it can be carried on the wind and also into the respiratory tracts of humans, triggering an immune system response that causes the sufferer flu-like symptoms.Photo of grass

It is thought that there are around 10,000 different species of grass in the world ranging from the turf that we mow on our lawns to the mighty forests of bamboo. Their seeds, known as grains, form the basis of most of the crops that we grow for human and animal consumption.Photo of long grass on lawn

Answer: A grassy arse! Apologies to my Spanish friends.Photo of long grass against blue sky