Saturday, 27 June 2015

No Longer Flying

After so long, it felt like a crash landing;
I came tumbling out of the air,
and seemed destined to sink into solid ground
to be rather quickly lost to view.

But no-one was looking anyway,
they all had other things on the go,
and there was, perhaps, a failure of focus,
an optical error of sorts.

So, this - a summer’s day, and I no longer flying,
but still above ground at least,
with eyes that continue to function
and a memory more or less intact.

I reflect upon the green of a hidden vineyard
on the steep south slope below the castle,
secure behind its walls of stone capped with tiles:
and a day I think I remember well.

A summer afternoon - black nightshade and fumitory
rambled peaceably between the vines,
and a robin sang to us
from atop the ivied gatepost.

I must have been flying that day,
for somehow I still see all of it from high above,
you and me together there, so long ago;
but blink, and this, strangely, is now.

Now I am lost from view behind French windows,
where nobody sees me or cares overmuch;
I dwell on vines and robins and annual weeds,
and on you, only as I remember.

Long ago: I remember too that in those lovely and love-filled days,
when it was all beginning, when hope fuelled our flying,
I could not truly imagine the falling,
the light dying, the soil cast across me.

Now I can, and only too well; but it is not quite dark,
and I am able still to dream of flying at least,
while green, they say, is the last colour one can see
as the daylight fades.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


A "Nature Notes" article . . .

We have suffered an invasion! We don’t normally get starlings in our garden. They sometimes feature on our record sheet, because they do live not far away, and from time to time we see them from the garden, flying by or perching on nearby roofs or chimney pots. But our garden is - or was - starling free. And then, all of a sudden, the other day, it was full of them: an invasion.

A family of starlings had winged in, father, mother and seven or eight boisterous youngsters, to raid the fat and insect chunks we have in one of our feeders.  I suppose the parents were introducing their young charges to good sources of food. Clearly they like the fat chunks, as they’ve stayed with us ever since - not the whole family, thank goodness, but one or two of the youngsters.

Actually, it was quite entertaining to watch them. The young birds were as big and as strong as the parents. They are a mousy brown in colour, and will gradually develop the spotty black adult winter plumage over coming months. They are acrobatic, noisy and quarrelsome, rowdy yobbos of the bird world. The parents clearly struggle to cope with them. The young birds are perfectly able to feed themselves, but still chase after their parents in the hope that they will feed them. This means the parents we saw were constantly under attack; though they’d clearly decided that by bringing their children to feast at our feeders they’d done their bit, they were repeatedly mobbed, attacked and - let’s be honest - mugged by the young ones.

The parents in summer plumage are very handsome birds, with yellow bills, black plumage that is iridescent, and shot with purple and green, an upright stance and a strutting, swaggering style. They are so rowdy at a feeding station that other birds can be put off, though that didn’t seem to be the case on our invasion day, and the tits and finches just flitted in between quite happily, while our boss robin showed himself easily a match for a young starling.

Starlings are present all the year round in every part of the UK. While their numbers have fallen in recent years, they are by no means rare, and in winter millions of starlings from the Continent flood in to take advantage of our comparatively mild winter weather. As insect eaters they can be very useful, feasting on a number of pest species like wireworms and leatherjackets, probing into soft ground with their long bills. However, they are generalist feeders that will exploit any likely food source, and if present in large numbers they can do serious damage to crops.

Starlings are familiar city birds, congregating on ledges and windowsills; in rural areas they are often hole-nesters. The huge winter gatherings of starlings, called murmurations, generally in marshy areas, are one of our most amazing wildlife sights. The wheeling flight of many thousands of birds is more reminiscent of waders than of other song birds, I always think.

Friday, 12 June 2015

The Carpenter's Song

I shall take my pleasure in the golden shafts of sunlight,
where the shadows of great trees fall dark across the lane;
I shall take my pleasure in the cooling breeze against my face,
and the open road behind, beyond.
I shall take my pleasure in the strength of an arm
and the co-ordinating skill of eye and hand;
in the curl of the shavings where the plane travels,
in the turn and grain of the wood,
the chiselled face and the hammer’s blow.
Others may walk a different road, or chase a different gold -
let them measure their lives and mine as they may choose;
I shall take my pleasure in the things I know
and in the work that I can do,
here in the place where God has set me.
Let that be gold enough, and fame enough,
while I have breath to journey on.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

After Rain

This is supposed to be a dry week, but last night a rogue shower saved me the job of watering. And on this sunny morning the ground remains wet, the grass glistens, and steam is gently rising from the wooden railings around our patio. There are family parties of blue and great tits making use of the feeders, the bolder among the young birds squabbling and chasing each other around, and the more timid looking pathetic and waiting to be fed by the long-suffering parents. I was interested to see the male bullfinch land on the patio fence, very close therefore to me as I watched from the kitchen window. He proceeded to prospect along the railings for insects and spiders, it being festooned by webs, very visible after the rain; from time to time he would hover before a web, to pluck away some insect caught there, I presume. I've not seen bullfinches do that before.

Sunday, 7 June 2015


A really windy day today, and the garden from time to time full of great tits, mostly young, with their greyish plumage. They were raiding the feeders, feeding very messily, much to the delight of the pigeons and blackbirds prospecting below. Quite fun to watch them battling with the strong gusts, and not always ending up where intended!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Blackbirds and Bumble Bees

Churchyards are often wonderful places for wildlife, and the churchyard at Montford in Shropshire, where I spent a couple of hours the other day, is certainly no exception.  I was delighted to be surrounded by nature on a warm and sunny day.  Many birds were singing, but there were two or three male blackbirds really hammering out their songs at each other.  Blackbirds will often select a high perch from which to sing, but I was interested to observe one singing quite coherently with a beak full of insects, and continuing to sing, albeit in a slightly more ragged fashion, as he flew down to a group of shrubs where (I presume) the nest must have been sited.  I'm not sure how such a volume of song can be produced with the beak closed; certainly when watching blackbirds giving their all to song you see the beak open and close as the sound is produced.

The churchyard was fairly full of flowers, and part had been left uncut to allow a good meadow flora to thrive.  Buttercups, vetches and ox-eye daisies predominated, with speedwells very attractive near the church door.  I was delighted also to see a small group of star of Bethlehem (ornithogallus, I think) half hidden in the long grass. I suppose this may have been planted, long ago - good to see it still thriving, though.

I spent some time looking at the south wall, very warm in the afternoon sun. This is a sandstone church, and the stone of the 18th century chancel seemed particularly porous. Mason bees and small wasps were dancing up and down the wall, investigating and occasionally entering holes.  I presume the bees were nesting in some of the holes, but it seemed to me that they could only locate the precise holes they were using by trial and error!  As I watched, a zebra spider made its way up the wall. As its name suggests, this little spider has a black-and-white striped abdomen, and one effect of this is that the jerky movements of this spider are accentuated. It almost seems to disappear from one place and reappear in another a little further on. Eventually, it too disappeared into a hole. I was interested also to see a black millipede making its way up the wall. Millipedes are vegetarian, so I wonder what this one hoped to find on the wall - perhaps algae or lichens. It was certainly there by intention, quite determinedly climbing the wall, investigating each hole or crack it came to.

The shaded north wall of the church was loud with the buzzing of bees. The reason for this was that cotoneasters were growing there, studded with tiny flowers that were obviously irresistible as a source of nectar. Nearly all the bees were bumble bees; with so much concern about possible declines in bee numbers, it was good to see - and hear - so many. I am no expert on bumble bees, much as I love them, but there were at least six or seven different species, by my reckoning, and maybe a hundred individual bees or more there at any one time.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Bees (again)

Bit of a grey old start to the day today, June not exactly flaming - at the outset, anyway!  Once the sun got out yesterday things warmed up a bit in the garden, and I was able to watch the solitary bees that have made use of our insect home. Despite the name, these bees often live close together, seeming to form what can seem to be quite large colonies - but within that community, each bee in fact does live a solitary life, in that they don't help each other or co-ordinate their activities like the workers in a hive. There seemed to be more than one species, as I was watching; without knowing much about them, I'm aware that there are cuckoo bees that parasitise on their hard working neighbours, so perhaps some of the bees I could see were doing that.

Solitary bees are as important as other species as pollinators, so they are definitely to be encouraged. Ann and I had a wander around the gardens at Powis Castle yesterday afternoon, and it was good to see plenty of bees around there. One holly bush, in full flower, seemed to be particularly attractive, and we were able to watch several bumble bee species hard at work.

Later, Helen and I did some driving around - she was looking for good photo opportunities. After trying out a number of viewpoints and scenic spots, eventually we ascended to the Kerry Ridgeway, via the road from Kerry towards Clun, and had a walk along there. That provided the scenery Helen had been looking for, but, boy, was it bleak!  Also, many degrees colder than down below, with stunted trees blasted into submission by the unrelenting westerlies.  No bees up there, that we could see!  I shall walk the length of the Ridgeway this summer, I think - I've been meaning to do it for a while . . . but I'll choose a warmer day, I think!