Friday, April 27, 2012

A History Lesson and a Bit of a Lark!


I know, I know! I said my next post wouldn't be long but time flies by and one week just seems to roll into another, maybe I'm just not very good at this blogging game. Slapped wrist! Must try harder, write it out one hundred times...must try harder, must try harder...no, maybe not, that would be incredibly boring ;-) I had to do it once at school you know! 'I must not blow grass during my history lesson' one hundred times! 

I was sat by the open window on a hot, sunny day and would much rather have been out there enjoying Nature instead of sitting in a classroom  not listening to a dull and boring lesson about things so far in the past that they seemed completely unreal to my young and disinterested  ears. The long grasses inches away were just too tempting! I plucked one, put it between my thumbs, raised it to my lips and blew. The loud whistling noise rang out...my classmates laughed uproariously...the teacher didn't :-( ...I didn't expect it to work quite that well!

Enough of this waffle! Back to business and despite the inhospitable weather which has befallen most of us here in the UK I have managed to dodge some of the heavy showers and get out a few times with the camera. I also have some photos left from a few weeks ago including the next one.

This Great Spotted Woodpecker was a very long way away and I nearly missed it when I was scanning around with my binoculars. 

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I was so pleased to see these Snake's Head Fritillaries at a very small Nature reserve near me. Although a popular garden flower they are rare in the wild due to so many of the ancient meadows which provided their habitat being ploughed up and used for the production of food crops during World War II. The ones I saw were there last year too and as last year they were carefully protected from Rabbits etc. by a wire surround which as you can see made photographing them difficult. Hopefully in years to come they will gradually spread.

Snake's Head Fritillaries

'The snake’s head fritillary is one of the most exquisite jewels
 in the treasure house of British wild flowers.
Its linear grey-green leaves are followed in spring
 by nodding heads sometimes of pure white,
 or more frequently marked with a delicate
 chequerboard pattern in shades of purple.'
(The Royal Horticultural Society)

I only saw this bird briefly and in a rather dim spot so was pleased to find when I looked at the photos afterwards that it wasn't the Coal Tit I had thought but a Marsh Tit. I did wonder about a Willow Tit but there is no discernible white panel on the wings.

Marsh Tit

I mentioned in my last post that while at Draycote Water I photographed some Great Crested Grebes. They are always at Draycote in good numbers and at the end of the visit as the sun was starting to set I saw the following pair engaging in the beginnings of the 'weed dance'.

Great Crested Grebes


Unfortunately after the next photo, as often happens,  it fizzled out.


Also right at the end of the walk and in dim conditions I saw lots of pipits foraging on the grassy bank. I think this one is a Meadow Pipit although I know there were also Rock Pipits there that day.

Meadow Pipit

 ~~~

The Chaffinch is a bird I see often, both in my garden and on my walks. This one was seen during a local walk.

Chaffinch

I thought these pretty little Celandines, seen just two days ago, made a lovely splash of colour on a rather dull and showery day.

Lesser Celandine

'There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, at the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun itself, 'tis out again!'
(William Wordsworth)

As I said earlier, I have some photos left over from just before my previous post which is why there is not much new growth on the hedge where I saw the House Sparrows at the beginning of my post and in the following photo.
 
House Sparrows

Unlike the Tree Sparrow which I showed in an earlier post the House Sparrow is still a fairly common bird in the UK although it's numbers have declined dramatically in recent years. I do see them in my garden but nowhere near as regularly as I used to.


I love Chiffchaffs. The moment you hear the first one of the year you know that Spring has finally arrived. There seem to be lots on my patch this year :-) The poet, John Clare called it by its local dialect name, the Pettichap.

Chiffchaff

'Stop! here's the bird—that woodman at the gap
Frightened him from the hedge:—'tis olive-green.
Well! I declare it is the Pettichap!
Not bigger than the wren, and seldom seen.'
(John Clare)

I wish I had reacted more quickly and got the camera to my eye a few moments sooner when this Fox crossed my path carrying supper home. I had assumed it was one of the many Rabbits which inhabit that location but I'm pretty sure it was a Grey Squirrel. I was slightly disconcerted when I looked at the photo on the computer and saw the eyes of its prey!

Fox (with prey)

While following a public footpath through the middle of a field of newly growing corn there were Skylarks singing everywhere and every few steps one would fly from the crops just inches from me. Somehow, I managed to capture a brief glimpse...hence 'a bit of a lark' ;-)

Skylark

'The earth was green, the sky was blue:
I saw and heard one sunny morn,
A skylark hang between the two,
A singing speck above the corn;
...

 The cornfield stretched a tender green
To right and left beside my walks;
I knew he had a nest unseen
Somewhere among the million stalks... '
(Christina Georgina Rossetti)

Well, I think I may be starting to outstay my welcome so to brighten up another wet, English day I'll leave you with these beautiful Daffodils found growing in the middle of nowhere a few weeks ago.

Daffodils

Now, will I post any sooner next time, have I learnt my (history) lesson?...only time will tell :-) Until then...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Springtime Strolls


What a wonderful taste of Spring we have had in the last couple of weeks or to be more precise I should probably say taste of Summer! It really has been glorious here but this week it's back down to earth with a bump, well a crash really :-) Many parts of the UK have plunged from temperatures in the low 20sC/70sF to sub zero and snow!! It hasn't been quite that bad where I live but we have had some much needed rain and it has turned very cold but of course the Blackthorn is in flower which often coincides with a cold spell, hence the old country term 'Blackthorn Winter'.

Blackthorn (In the Autumn it will bear Sloes)

The lovely weather has brought the butterflies out but I am rather worried that this cold snap will have an adverse effect on them. After a good start here last year they were disappointingly sparse during the Summer so I was hoping they would fare better this year. So far I have only managed to photograph Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells, none of which posed on anything pretty unfortunately. The lovely pattern on the wings of the Peacock butterfly has always reminded me of the 'faces' of Pansy flowers. This one was on a house wall.

 Peacock Butterfly

'A velvet-winged butterfly flew,
And the pansies themselves were not brighter
Than the beautiful creature in hue.'

(Eben E. Rexford)

And this one showing the underside.


All my recent walks have been within a couple of miles of home but on one occasion we went further afield to Draycote Reservoir which as some readers will remember is a favourite place of mine to see birds, particularly water birds, which living in such a landlocked area I wouldn't usually see at all. Due to illness for much of last year, I hadn't been there for over twelve months and I was shocked to see how extremely low the water was and really it was disappointing as everything was very distant making photos with my 50-250mm lens very difficult. This drake Teal was about the only bird I managed on the water apart from some Great Crested Grebes which I will put on my next post.

Teal (drake)

At the end of a pleasant but not very productive walk I saw this Woodpecker foraging for ants. The sun was setting which made the colours slightly odd.

Green Woodpecker

Back to local walks and I was pleased to see a Redpoll, it was distant but nice to see as they usually escape me, I think it is the Lesser rather than the Mealy but stand to be corrected.

Lesser Redpoll

During these very local walks in the last few weeks I have seen and heard House Sparrows, Greenfinches, Magpies, Starlings, Song Thrushes, Yellowhammers, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Green Woodpeckers, Treecreepers, Nuthatches, Common Buzzards, Kestrels, Skylarks, Linnets, Coal Tits, Pheasants, Canada Geese, Coots, Moorhens, Mallards and the single Lesser Redpoll. Also a huge amount of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Long-tailed Tits, Dunnocks, Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves, Carrion Crows and Rooks. Oddly, I haven't seen Bullfinches for some weeks. On March 23rd I was pleased to hear my first Chiffchaff of the year and just two days later they seemed to be calling their names to me everywhere I went, such a welcome sound in the early Spring :-)


'Live in each season as it passes:
 breathe the air, drink the drink, 
taste the fruit and resign yourself
 to the influences of each'
(Henry David Thoreau)

This Dunnock didn't seem at all bothered by my presence, I began to wonder if it was super-glued to the branch ;-) Frustratingly, and despite the lovely weather I mentioned, most of the birds in this post were photographed in moments when the sun had either disappeared or was very hazy :-(

Dunnock

For me, one of the loveliest things about this time of year is the emergence of Spring wildflowers, as a child it was always a thrill to find the first Violets of the year...and it still is.

Violets

Although I love them all, my favourite wildflower has always been the Primrose. I remember, as children, each year Mum would take my brother and me on what seemed quite a long trek to see them in a particular wood where they grew in great abundance, they looked an absolute picture.

Common Primrose

'I dream of uplands, where the primrose shines 
And waves her yellow lamps above the lea;
Of tangled copses, swung with trailing vines;
Of open vistas, skirted with tall pines,
Where green fields wait for me.'
(George Arnold)


I know I quite often show photos of Yellowhammers but I keep finding them on different local walks :-) They are actually on the red list of UK birds of conservation concern so I am always pleased to see them.

Yellowhammer

The Small Tortoiseshell butterfly suffered a worrying decline a few years ago but thankfully seems to have done much better in the last two or three years.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

7-spot Ladybird

Finally this Buzzard was one of many I have enjoyed watching soaring high in the skies in the last couple of weeks.
Common Buzzard

I hope everyone (who celebrates it) has a Happy Easter. I intend to post sooner next time. Until then...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.