Week 28th June

I almost forgot to post this this week. Better late than never!

Sunday 28th June – The weather begins to break. A little cooler and more cloudy. The sea is grey and clouded from our window, the horizon pale and luminous. Later in the day mist rises from the woods on Trow Hill and the air feels heavy and saturated. Headachey.

Monday 29th June – Yesterday’s gloominess has lifted and there are blue skies and a fresh breeze. We take a walk up onto the cliff gardens and find a sheltered spot to enjoy the sun and keep out of the wind. It’s still very peaceful here, but soon the tourists will arrive and our lockdown quiet will be gone. No more lunch takeaways from the garden cafe, the seats will be full and there will be more people around. Too many for us. We shall reschedule our walks to earlier in the day and keep away from the gardens. We shall enjoy being out of doors just as much.

Tuesday 30th June – Rain all night and all day. The parched garden will be drinking it up. We put all the pot plants from the conservatory outside for a drink and a wash and tidy them up generally. They look very much better for it. In a break in the rain I pick the first mange-tout peas, crisp and juicy, they lift tonight’s salad into something rather lovely. This evening it feels cold, almost cold enough for the heating. Cold enough for a blanket over the legs instead. No birds to be seen all day.

Wednesday 1st July – July is the month our Anglo-Saxon ancestors called Heymonath or Mead monath, the first referring to haymaking and the second to the flowering of the meadows. Sadly, there are precious few flowering meadows around now. Years ago July would have seen our countryside a kaleidoscope of flower-rich meadows and grasslands that were an intrinsic part of our farming landscape. Over 97% of our flower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, that’s 3 million hectares or 7.5 million acres, and just 1% of the UK’s land area is species-rich grassland. Even with this staggering amount of loss, a meadow is still a crucial habitat with often over 150 different species of flower and grass that support a whole eco-system of insects, small mammals and birds. You can contribute to the making of meadows by supporting the National Trust’s Meadows appeal here and by involvement with Plantlife, take a look here. Also, Saturday 4th July is National Meadows Day. I don’t ‘journal’ on Saturdays usually which is why I’m mentioning it here. Anyway, it’s much nicer than Stupid Saturday and rushing to the pub, as far as I’m concerned.

Thursday 2nd July – Cool and windy. All day. We’ve had a 12 degree drop in temperatures from last week, no wonder I’m feeling the cold. The birds don’t like it either, they’re not hanging around the garden for long. The blackbird is all alarm calls and tossing leaves around under the camellia. The young birds – greenfinch, goldfinch – are fluffed up and still doing that furious wing flapping thing, asking to be fed. The parents don’t oblige, they have to fend for themselves.

Friday 3rd July – The long-tailed tits have brought their babies into the garden. They are the cutest of cute things – tiny, mostly grey and white, and with a quite bewildered look. They manage their long tails remarkably well, finding their way through the coronilla, investigating the empty bird feeder, not straying too far from parent. Spells of sunshine tempt a few butterflies out – small white, speckled wood and a new visitor, a gatekeeper. More warm weather please.

Week 21st June

Sunday 21st June – Midsummer’s day, the summer solstice, Litha. The time when the night is shortest and the day longest. The sun is at the height of its power and the earth is fertile and fulfilled. Many will have been out at dawn to see the sun rise and to celebrate and pay their respects. At the same time the power of the sun will diminish from today and the days will shorten, the nights lengthen. This is when the Oak King, in all his abundance, stands aside for the return of the Holly King, who will hold sway in the dark of the year until the winter solstice. The world, and the wheel of life turn again, as they have since the beginning of time. There is a stability and a reassurance in remembering and recognising these great turning points in the year.

Monday 22nd June – Another first in the garden – we saw our first Nuthatch today. It didn’t stay long but perched in the amelanchier for a minute and then flew through to the fir tree. Now I know there is one around, I shall look out for him in future.

Tuesday 23rd June – Rising temperatures. A walk along the beach feels about right. Watching 4 young men putting fishing rods and coolboxes into a rowing boat and then pushing it out into the waves. Problem is, it’s windy, the sea is quite shallow where they’re pushing out, and they will have to row through the breaking waves to calmer, deeper water before they can lower the outboard. They look like inexperienced rowers, there are only two oars and they’re pushing out by the rock island where the tide moves in awkwardly. Sure enough, they can’t row through the breaking waves strongly enough and they start to broadside the waves, in a second they are capsized. Fortunately, four heads bob up very quickly and they get themselves (and the boat, oars, rods and coolboxes) back to the beach. Fishing trip cancelled. Even on a very gentle beach like ours, launching a rowing boat is no easy thing.

Wednesday 24th June – Hot. Lots of butterflies on the wing today – small white, peacock, speckled wood, comma, holly blue. And a garden tiger moth. Sitting in the garden on the deck, a blackbird swoops across so low and so fast that I feel it brush the brim of my straw hat. Gave me a fright!

Thursday 25th June – Hot again. Clear blue sky. Lying back, I can see and hear a flock of swifts swirl over for the first time this summer. I’ve seen individuals but not a raiding party like this. There must be thirty or forty of them, swooping and gliding and screaming for insects that have made it up high in the heat. They circle in three or four waves right above my head and then move off. The only other life in the sky is a lazy buzzard being persistently mobbed by a herring gull. Can a single gull ‘mob’ on its own? This one does, and is eventually successful as the buzzard gets fed up with this long, black-tipped wing, screaming persecutor constantly diving straight at it.

Friday 26th June – Heat takes us to the beach. It’s quiet. The tide is in which means there isn’t much beach for people to sit on. High tide at the moment brings the water right up to the sea wall along the eastern end of the Esplanade. Further west, it covers the sand and far fewer people want to sit on the pebbles and wait it out. We buy take-out coffee and chips and people watch for a while. The sound of the sea sucking at the shingle is powerfully soporific, and coupled with the heat and the carbohydrates, makes me drowsy and lethargic. In the flowerbed next to our bench we give crumbs to a juvenile robin that seems already to be confident around people. A female chaffinch and a pair of pied wagtails also come along for a share. Eventually, we go home for iced tea.

Week 14th June

Sunday 14th June – One of the young blackbirds is out on his own, tentatively probing around the vegetable garden. He hasn’t learned how to stop and listen before he probes, so it’s all a bit hit and miss. He doesn’t quite have his adult feathers. His wings and tail are the black of maturity, his breast, head and back still brown. He is the first of the garden fledglings we have seen feeding alone.

Monday 15th June – Very warm today so a walk along the beach seems like a good idea. The sea is flat calm, just rippling against the shore. Sun reflections are silvering the surface like escaped mercury, rolling and slipping towards the beach. Two cormorants fly west to east, barely above the water, then circle and drop. Immediately they make that little jump out and then under, disappearing completely before bobbing up some way away.

Tuesday 16th June – More youngsters around the garden. Two young greenfinches jumping at insects around the deck, still a brownish olive colour, a paler flight feather just beginning to show. One young goldfinch, body feathers coloured but still no red face feathers, follows its parents into the cherry tree. Calling to be fed, it is ignored and starts to pick at the lichen. These young birds are almost independent and will be finding their own territories soon.

Wednesday 17th June – There is a clattering of wings and a frantic squeaking, mewing noise, and a wood pigeon bursts out of the chestnut tree followed by a female sparrowhawk. Having lost the element of surprise, the sparrowhawk, all graceful wing curves and straight-tailed efficiency, gives up and banking round is away and gone. The woodpigeon – heavier and much more ungainly, escapes this time.

Thursday 18th June – Heavy showers all day long. The garden loves it, the vegetables especially – we can practically see them growing. The beans have reached the top of the sticks and we are picking courgettes, radish, lettuce and spring onions. The potatoes are flowering in their sacks and at last the tomatoes have grown enough to tie to the canes. Rain and warmth – the answer to a gardener’s prayers!

Friday 19th June – I can see one bird feeder from the bedroom window so I can watch the birds without even getting out of bed. We don’t feed them in the summer, that way they pick all the insects and aphids off the garden plants (except for blackfly, which they don’t seem to touch, sadly). The bird feeder had nyger seed in it and this morning a whole family of goldfinches are trying hard to prise out any remnants. They are joined by a family of greenfinches who are more rumbustious, flying in and trying to knock the smaller finches off the perches. A noisy squabble ensues with little birds fluttering and chirping in the branches, feet forward around the feeder. The fracas is broken up by the arrival of a great spotted woodpecker, duped by the noise into thinking there must be food available. The smaller birds are away and the woodpecker examines the feeder closely, red lower belly clearly visible. Realising there is nothing to be had, he (it is a he as in flying away he shows the red nape to his neck) adjourns to the amelanchier and prods away at the bark and lichen.

Week 7th June

Sunday 7th June – The wood pigeon that lost its mate earlier in the year – probably to a sparrow hawk – still potters about the garden. For a while he tried very hard to attach himself to another female, but they were all already paired, and would have none of him. Now he sits on the lawn or on the decking rail, keeping himself to himself. Maybe next year.

Monday 8th June – A black and white flash, a splash of red. A great spotted woodpecker bounces into the amelanchier and hides behind the trunk. A moment, and he’s gone, away across the gardens. This is the first great spotted woodpecker we’ve seen since we came here. In Norse mythology the woodpecker is the bird of Thor, the god of thunder and lightening. Thor uses his magic hammer, while the woodpecker drums on trees. Not quite the same drama, but you get the connection.

Tuesday 9th June – A cautious trip out today for a change of scenery for our exercise. Up on to Dartmoor for some wider horizons and quietness. From a parking spot just off the road between Moretonhamstead and Postbridge, the moor spreads out on all sides – the high north-western moor behind us, the slopes of Birch Tor and Headland Warren in front to the left and Soussons Down to the right. It is silent for most of the time. An occasional car passes but it is really beautifully quiet. We can hear skylarks and see butterflies lifting out of the heather, too far ahead to identify apart from a couple of peacocks. A pied wagtail scurries around puddles near the car, a buzzard lifts from nowhere in the middle distance and rises in circles above us, a raven flaps purposefully overhead.

Wednesday 10th June – A walk on Peak Hill today. The sweep of the bay is visible from Beer Heights in the east to beyond Otterton Point in the west and the Triassic cliffs are a deep rusty red on both sides. There have been three landslips locally in the past couple of weeks at both the east and west end of our stretch of coast. The cliffs are formed from soft rock and are prone to falls and landslides. They can (and do) happen at any time although the very wet February, and now a long dry period, make them more likely.

Thursday 11th June – Real rain today, torrential, bouncing off the ground rain, lightning and thunder. More forecast for tomorrow. It’s very welcome.

Friday 12th June – And again. Everything hunkering down and hidden away, apart from the plants which are stretching up and luxuriating in the downpours, the parched lawn especially. There will be purple self-heal punctuating the green after this, I’m sure.

Week 31st May

Sunday 31st May – Still very hot. Too hot to be outside, so watching the birds from the sitting room window. We don’t put food out for the birds after the end of April, so there is no ‘focal point’. Dunnock fledglings, greenfinch fledglings and house sparrow fledglings. The nursery is expanding. A sharp, loud call and the green woodpecker lands on the pathway, looks around and lifts off again.

Monday 1st June – The first day of meteorological summer. Hot. A single red kite over the garden again today, being mobbed by a buzzard. They are unusual in these parts according to the British Trust for Ornithology. When I submitted them as one of my Birdtrack birds at the end of last week they came up as ‘notable’.

Tuesday 2nd June – Added chaffinch to the fledgling nursery today. We seem to have a resident pair, which is lovely as they are in decline at the moment. Delighted to see that they have raised one chick at least. Walking to the pharmacy early this morning blackbirds feeding at least four chicks on the footpath. Dark and rounded, comical with their short tails, they scuttled off into the bottom of the hedge as we approached.

Wednesday 3rd June – Still hot but cooler weather on the way. A small flock of greenfinches, maybe 5 or 6 birds, in amongst the vegetables pecking at the ground. I hope they’re eating bittercress seeds.

Thursday 4th June – Suddenly colder, 8 or 9 degrees less than yesterday and becoming windy. The leaves are almost shivering on the trees. The blackbird is anxious and flighty, alarm-calling frequently and diving through the garden, wings outstretched. When he’s not panicking, he is furiously throwing dead leaves around under the shrubs, rustling and scrabbling about.

Friday 5th June – Found what looked like a large, dead worm in the garden. Surely too big to be an earthworm? Silvery black underneath, brown on top, and then there is an open mouth. It’s not an earthworm, but a slow worm. I’ve never seen a slow worm before. I wish the first one wasn’t a dead one.

Week 24th May

Sunday 24th May – Above the garden, the first swift of the season. At least, the first swift of the season for me. Just one black crescent against the blue, firing across the sky like an arrow, swooping and switching direction, and then – gone. There was no sound, I missed the shriek and scream that usually draws attention to these little sky-bullets. I hope it comes back. I hope more come back.

Monday 25th May – Bank Holiday. Very warm. The birdsong is the usual mix of chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch and of course, blackbird. The chaffinch is catching insects. From its perch on next door’s apple tree it darts up, flutters furiously as it grabs at some small fly and then back to the perch. For all the world like a spotted flycatcher, but I can see his pink breast and white tail feathers as he repeatedly forays out.

Tuesday 26th May – There is an overgrown patch at the south end of the garden. I have been investigating it for wild flowers. The rest of the garden has the usual weeds – daisies, buttercups (creeping and meadow), dandelions and the ever-present willow herb – but the overgrown patch has some rather more interesting ones. The most noticeable are the tall spires of purple toadflax, with flowers like tiny snapdragons, often bending with the weight of bees which love them, and happily seeding themselves everywhere. They seem to particularly like the base of walls here, where they bake in the sun. I like them and am happy to see them around the garden. The most prolific in the patch is wood avens, sometimes called herb bennet. One of the geum family, it tells me that the more desirable geums will like our soil and grow well. Wood avens has small, bright yellow flowers. Again, the bees like them but they spread ferociously and are all over our neglected garden. They’re said to be able to drive away evil spirits and protect from mad dogs and poisonous snakes. That’s all right, then. More exotic are a couple of plants of stinking iris. Their muddy yellowy/greeny flowers are well over but they are developing clusters of orangey red fruits which they will hang on to through autumn and winter. If you bruise the leaves, they smell pretty bad – hence the name. Closer to the ground is ubiquitous herb robert, a teeny tiny pink geranium-type flower with red stems and deeply dissected leaves. Again, present all over the garden and fortunately it’s easy to pull up. It has lots of uses in folk medicine – for nosebleeds, diarrhoea, toothache and healing wounds. If you crush the leaves and rub them on your skin, it repels mosquitos. Allegedly. Maybe I’ll do a whole blog on wild flowers one day. They’re fascinating.

Wednesday 27th May – A little fat, fledgling dunnock is hopping about, calling for food. The parents have raised just one, but it is noisy enough to keep them very busy. It has a beautifully spotted, pale breast and tawny upper parts, not a bit like the adult appearance. It’s like a tiny rock pipit.

Thursday 28th May – I notice the local crows making a fuss over the garden. Looking up, there are four red kite, lazily circling around, casually ignoring the mobbing crows. I’ve never seen them over the garden before, but their long, angled wings with ‘fingers’ spread and their forked tail are unmistakable, plus the fact that they are considerably bigger than the crows. I don’t know how common they are in the south west of England – the RSPB site doesn’t list them as a locally breeding bird, and the distribution map shows them in the south west over the winter rather than all-year. I hope they are establishing themselves nearby and we see them more often.

Friday 29th May – Too hot to be outside today. The birds are loving the warm weather. Don’t forget to fill your birdbaths so that they have somewhere to splash and keep cool. And to drink, of course. They’re singing their hearts out. If you’d like to be better at recognising bird song try this skill development course from the BTO. It costs £20 and looks really good.

stinking iris – pic in the public domain

herb robert – pic ©sannse

purple toadflax – pic ©jgirvin

Week 17th May

Sunday 17th May – At last the blue sky is back.  Warmer too.  The young veg plants might just be safe.  A greenfinch sings long and loud from the top of the cherry tree and sees off a goldfinch that tries to join in.

Monday 18th May – A reasonable butterfly count in the garden.  Speckled wood, small white, holly blue, peacock.  New birds – I think a siskin may have flown in, but is out again too quickly for me to confirm identification.  It may be one of the resident greenfinches.

Tuesday 19th May –  I can’t imagine being without the birdsong in my garden, as you may have noticed.  According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) turtle doves have decreased 94%, cuckoos by 70%, skylarks by 75%.  I’ve never heard a turtle dove which I consider to be quite a gap in my birdsong experience.  I still hear skylarks if I visit ‘lonelier’ places, and I miss the joy of hearing them on almost every country walk.  I haven’t heard a cuckoo for a long time.  I love this soundscape of birdsong in an English meadow, based on records from 1901, by @JosephMonkhouse and @JackBaddams. Soundscape here: bit.ly/LostSoundscapes

Wednesday 20th May – An early walk down by the beach this morning.  Calm sea.  Local fishermen putting out lobster pots inshore, and close in there is a paddle-boarder, two kayaks and someone swimming without a wetsuit.  The sea must be warmer.  Two rock pipits in the boulder breakwater and swallows over Connaught Gardens.  My first view of swallows this year, their white underparts and streaming tail feathers a welcome sign of summer a-coming in.   A takeaway coffee from The Clock Tower Cafe reminds us of the tastes we’ve been missing.  Our first ‘away from home’ cup of proper coffee. 

Thursday 21st May –  Hot and dry.  The soil in the garden is really hard, and powders when disturbed.  Breaking the ground for planting needs water to soak in for an hour beforehand.  No worms, lots of woodlice.  Two positively identified siskin seen first thing this morning and a visit from the green woodpecker this afternoon.

Friday 22nd May – The forecast overnight rain missed us – still dry here.  The wind is blustering through the leaf-laden trees, they swirl and sway in strong gusts.  The small birds are quiet but the blackbird, ever reliable, sings through it all.

Week 10th May

Sunday 10th May – So windy today and frost forecast tonight.  The trees are full of leaf so there is rushing and swaying and more than a little nervousness about weakened branches.  It hasn’t stopped the blackbird beating his chest in song, nor the robin proclaiming his territory.

Monday 11th May – Still very windy and from the north so a real chill to it.  The runner beans are battered but luckily I have more waiting in the wings.  Our usually gentle part of Lyme Bay is dotted with white wave caps and the clouds are sliding across the sky, in a hurry to get further south west. A crow twirls and tumbles its way across the valley.

Wednesday 13th May – Still cold and windy. Frosts are forecast until the end of the week. We go for our daily exercise but it’s too cold to do anything other than head down, quick march and get home as fast as possible.

Friday 15th May – Wednesday’s cold wind on my face left a legacy of facial pain and migraine, so no walking, no time in the garden, just sleep and analgesia. Better times next week.

Week 3rd May

Sunday 3rd May – The robin and his mate are taking food into a low conifer outside the sitting room window.  The dunnocks are doing the same at the bottom of the front hedge.  Quite a nursery in the making!

Monday 4th May – Our weekly walk on the beach this morning.  Just warm enough without a coat.  The sea is calm and grey-blue, small waves lapping rather than breaking.  Herring gulls doing their noisy aerobatics, common gulls sitting dejectedly on the shingle.  A single crow accompanies us along the front, bouncing from handrail to tarmac and back again.  Along by the rock island breakwaters there are crambe cordifolia and white sea campion in flower.  The crambe is beautiful, thick glaucous leaves and umbels of white flowers.

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Tuesday 5th May – Rain for most of the day and strong easterly winds.  The robins are busily feeding their chicks in spite of it.  They are wet and bedraggled but the constant supply of insects and worms must go on.  Exhausting work getting the chicks to fledging stage.

Wednesday 6th May – A bright sunshine morning.   Blue sky reflected in the sea which is waveless and smooth at this distance.  A neighbour’s mature liquidambar tree has its fresh green leaves; soon it will be a rich, deep red and a strong 60ft focal point at the bottom of the street.  In the same garden is a dead tree trunk covered in clematis montana, a glory of pale pink for a few weeks at this time of year.

Thursday 7th May –  The green woodpecker is back today.  We hear it a lot but rarely see it closely.  It appears in the tree calling that unmistakeable ‘yaffle’, and then down onto the lawn probing the edges for food.  As usual, it doesn’t stay long and is soon up and swooping away.

Friday 8th May – Another lovely, warm day.  The air is so still we can hear the cows lowing across the valley and this afternoon a donkey braying furiously.  It always shocks me if a donkey brays when I’m close by – such a harsh, totally body-wracking sound, the rib cage moving, the neck thrust forward, something ancient and threatening about it.

 

Week 26th April

Sunday 26th April – A splash of bright red through the window.  A huge poppy head emerges from it’s bud-chrysalis, pushing out its crinkled tissue paper petals to form a bowl of new-born exquisiteness.  Rich scarlet with black ‘eye-spots’ and a deep purple centre of quivering stamens, it is a tropical butterfly tethered to the ground.

Monday 27th April – The ground is very dry, crusted soil surfaces holding freshly sown seeds fast below the surface.

Tuesday 28th April – Light rain is veiling the valley, and the fields and trees are misted into grey shadows.  The sea and sky are inseparable, clouds and waves rolling in.

Wednesday 29th April –  More rain, although the sky is lighter and there is sun too. As soon as the rain breaks the cotoneaster fills with honey bees, visiting the tiny flowers methodically.  I can see twenty or so from the open window and I can hear the constant hum of a tiny part of the honey industry.  They are joined by white-tailed bumblebees and the robin, who diligently monitors all the garden guests.

Thursday 30th April – A field mouse calmly makes its way across the paving and into the bergenia patch.  Within a minute or two it finds the bird feeder and climbs into the tray below it (designed to catch the fallen seed and prevent rats and mice…) to feed on sunflower hearts dropped by the dunnocks and finches.  Its white belly is clearly visible as are its shorter tail and large back feet.  Apodemus sylvaticus is the most common and widespread mouse in the UK.  Its cute, but if I see any brothers and sisters…

Friday 1st May – Mayday with the sweet be-ribboned maypole dancing of the rural idyll, or Beltane –  the time of the marriage between the Great Goddess and her consort to mark the return of light and summer and ensure the fertility of the land.  Whichever you choose, it feels like a turning point in the year and the start of the growing season in earnest.