Saturday, 27 June 2009

Capturing the Castle!

Recently we visited Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire. As we have been before, and there wasn't a great deal of sunshine this time, we decided we would just enjoy a walk in the parkland and go again on a better day to take some photos of the formal gardens. To the right of the photo above, the castle was undergoing some extensive maintenance work and was disfigured by scaffolding which would have marred the photograph had I shown the building in its entirety.

"Broughton Castle . . . about the most beautiful castle in all England . . . for sheer loveliness of the combination of water, woods and picturesque buildings." So said historian Sir Charles Oman in 1898.

It was built as a manor house in 1300 in the village of Broughton by Sir John de Broughton at a location where the merging of three streams created a natural site for a moated manor, the house was sold in 1377 to William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester. The battlements were created in 1406 by Sir Thomas Wykeham.

The house was passed by inheritance to the Fiennes family (Barons Saye and Sele) in 1451. In the 17th century William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele was one of the leading militant reformers against Charles I. He raised troops to fight against the King at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642 and Royalist troops later besieged the castle, overcoming the defenders and occupying the castle for a while. It fell into disrepair in the 19th century but was rescued eventually by Frederick Fiennes, 16th Lord Saye and Sele, who brought in Sir George Gilbert Scott the renowned Victorian architect .

Broughton Castle is to this day still the home of the Saye and Sele family. Many films and tv programmes have been filmed there, notably parts of the films The Scarlett Pimpernel (1982), Three Men and a Little Lady (1990), The Madness of King George (1994) and Shakespeare in Love (1998).

As we walked we saw this family of Canada Geese

preparing for a snooze

in the beautiful place where they had chosen to live.

Although on this occasion we didn't visit the formal gardens, I couldn't resist a few photos from the other side of the moat.

'You who walk,
Maybe with troubled thoughts,
Come, enter here and rest;
And may the sweet serenity of growing things,
And the heavenly,peace
Be mirrored in thy soul.'
(D. M. Palmer)

I thought this rose was particularly lovely.

'You love the roses - so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!'
(George Elliot)

We spent some time watching the Swallows, soaring and dipping over the moat in pursuit of insects for their meal. Trying to photograph them was the most frustrating experience as they darted backwards and forwards and in and out of my viewfinder, it was impossible to get any decent photos but I have included two which just about show what they are.

'Swallows travel to and fro,
And the great winds come and go,
And the steady breezes blow,
Bearing perfume, bearing love.
Breezes hasten, swallows fly,
Towered clouds forever ply.'
(Robert Louis Stevenson)

I was very struck by the sculptural contours of this old tree

and I thought these Water Lilies looked pretty too.

Unfortunately we hadn't seen very much in the way of bird life apart from the Canada Geese, Swallows and these Mallards.

As we retraced our steps through the parkland to make our way back to the car the bells were ringing to summon parishioners to evening worship at the church situated in the grounds of this beautiful castle where lie the remains of many of the ancestors of its owners.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Snails and Pails and Nature Tales

A post at last! Life with all of its complications has intervened and unfortunately this post has been a long time coming but here it is, better late than never.

The weather here has been distinctly variable with some lovely warm sunshine but we have also had quite a lot of heavy thundery rain. I have been doing battle with slugs and snails which have been voraciously eating my young plants. I have collected buckets-full by torchlight and HLH has deposited them away from the house, but by the amount of plants I am losing I think they must make their way back again! Perhaps if I looked out around three in the morning there would be an army of them marching back in the gate!!

The garden is still busy with juvenile birds getting used to finding their own food and discovering the delights of the changeable British weather! The photo above is a juvenile Blackbird.

'When on a summer's morn I wake,
And open my two eyes,
Out to the clear, born-singing rills
My bird-like spirit flies.

To hear the Blackbird, Cuckoo, Thrush,
Or any bird in song;
And common leaves that hum all day
Without a throat or tongue.

And when Time strikes the hour for sleep,
Back in my room alone,
My heart has many a sweet bird's song
And one that's all my own.'
(William Henry Davies)

I am very pleased to have juvenile House Sparrows in the garden again, I remember the time when I would spot a bird in the garden and say 'Oh it's only a Sparrow', but after years of hardly seeing one at all I have learnt never to take even the most common bird for granted and it really has been a pleasure to see a family of sparrows visiting in the last week or two.

Juvenile Female House Sparrow

This juvenile male was so wet he had developed a punk hairdo!

Here's dad glad to be able to concentrate on feeding himself for a change.

This juvenile Great Tit seemed to be wondering where all the water was coming from!

When the sun came out this juvenile Robin posed prettily.

While mum or dad had a bath

Please don't photograph me in the bath!

Sunbathing to dry those newly washed feathers!

This juvenile female Chaffinch was also enjoying the sunshine

and so was this male, possibly dad

Because of the thistle seeds it eats, in Christian symbolism, the Goldfinch is associated with the Passion and Christ's Crown of Thorns. The Goldfinch, appearing in pictures of the Madonna and the Christ Child, represents the foreknowledge Jesus and Mary had of the Crucifixion.

I always think juvenile Goldfinches look quite odd without the vivid red and black markings of their parents but they are of course unmistakeable with their lovely rich golden colours.

'Have you heard the Goldfinch
Singing in the thorn
O what charming music,
This bright summer morn'
(Benjamin Gough)

While on one of our usual walks with Louis, our dog, we saw another male Chaffinch.

We also saw this Honey Bee, busy in the sunshine collecting nectar from a Dog Rose. After a bad couple of years for bees it is nice to see plenty around this year, hopefully their predicted decline will not be as bad as first feared.

and this Bumble Bee was doing the same on

Russian Comfrey

We also saw


Woody Nightshade

'My name is Nightshade, also Bittersweet;
Ah, little folk, be wise!
Hide your hands behind you when we meet,
Turn you away your eyes.
My flowers you shall not pick, nor berries eat,
For in them poison lies.'
(Cicely Mary Barker)

Last year was the worst year for butterfly numbers for 25 years! But on our walk we saw this Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly basking in the sunshine.

This butterfly used to be commonly seen in UK gardens but has suffered a dramatic decline in recent years especially in South East England where its numbers are down by over 80 per cent since 1990. One theory for the dramatic decline in this particular butterfly is climate change, but another is the parasitoid fly Sturmia Bella which was first found in Britain in 1999, its arrival from Southern Europe could be a result of climate change or possibly the accidental introduction of caterpillars brought in from Europe. The eggs of the Sturmia Bella are increasingly found on the Stinging Nettles which are the host plant of the Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillars. It is thought that the caterpillars are eating the eggs which develop inside them as they reach the cocoon stage, killing the host. Research into the decline is being carried out by Oxford University.

I just love to see the bright splashes of red of


'Summer set lip to earth's bosom bare,
And left the flushed print in a poppy there:
Like a yawn of fire from the grass it came,
And the fanning wind puffed it to flapping flame.'
(Francis Thompson)

These young squirrels were photographed by my best friend's husband on their shed roof and he kindly allowed me to put them on this post, (thank you S).

'Furly, curly
What a tail!
Tall as a feather
Broad as a sail!'

I shall try to get another post out in a few days, and I hope you all have a wonderful sunny nature-filled weekend.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Juvenile Jeopardy and Sunny Days!

What a busy time for the birds it is at the moment, there seem to be youngsters everywhere! A few days ago there was something of a drama in my garden. As I mentioned on my last post the Starlings are being particularly boisterous and noisy. The fat treats are being devoured as fast as I put them out and the poor little Tits are hardly getting a look in! I'm sure there are many people who have a fat ball holder like the one above.

Well, a few days ago I had been working in the garden quite close to this feeder, when something caught my attention and it really was double take time! Squashed into the feeder was a juvenile Starling with only its head protruding, upside-down, from one of the spaces. The poor thing was making no noise at all (very unusual for a Starling!), although it was moving its head around a lot, and had obviously been there all the time I had been in the garden and goodness knows how much longer! It may not have been panicking but I certainly was, I was frightened to go too close as I cannot bear to see suffering and was at a complete loss to know what to do to help it, if I had not seen it with my own eyes I would not have believed it was possible for such a large bird to get into such a narrow space and it was clear there was no easy way to get it out.

I ran indoors to phone HLH who was out on an errand and I was in such a state I could hardly use the phone and kept hitting wrong keys. Thankfully, just as I was doing so I heard the car coming up the drive. HLH too was flummoxed to begin with but decided the only thing to do was to attempt to cut the poor thing out of the holder. Luckily he has inherited a large collection of tools from his Dad who was a very practical man; HLH isn't :( among these he found a very small pair of wire cutters.

With great gentleness he gradually cut away the wire struts around the middle of the holder until it was in two pieces and as he removed the top part the Starling burst out and immediately hopped behind a large shrub! I was so relieved but would have liked to get a better look at it as one wing looked a bit crumpled.

Every time I looked behind the shrub it hopped to the opposite end and as I didn't want to distress it further I scattered some seed and put a small dish of water nearby.

When I looked an hour or so later there was no sign of it so I am hoping it has recovered. However two days ago I heard a scrabbling noise and a juvenile Starling somehow lurched itself over the fence and onto the birdbath and one of its wings was spread out strangely, it then disappeared back over the fence in the same way. Whether it is the same one, I really don't know, but it does worry me.

On a happier note the (not very good) photos below show some of the juveniles that have been visiting the garden in the past week or so.

The Winter Flowering Cherry tree above looks sparse because I think the snow and frost affected it, I actually thought I was going to lose it but it is just showing signs of recovery.


This little juvenile Blue Tit was so happy to be alive.

'Sweet bird! thy bow'r is ever green,
Thy sky is ever clear;
Thou has't no sorrow in thy song,
No winter in thy year.'
(John Logan)

'Who's that down there?

'Looking up here at me!'

'I think I look like a fluffy Easter Chick!'

This photo of a juvenile Greenfinch had to be cropped as it was taken between washing hanging on the line and I didn't think you would be interested in my bath towels (they're not even juvenile, in fact they're quite elderly) ;)

This juvenile Robin was enjoying the sunshine.

As was this juvenile Dunnock also known as the Hedge Sparrow.

'The coy hedge sparrow flaps her wing
& hops about the hedges
& soon to brood the early Spring
Will have some downy pledges'
(John Clare)

The hot weather in the last few days has meant lots of watering in the garden especially as I have been planting some annuals which my sister-in-law grew from seed in her greenhouse. If the slugs and snails spare them they should look lovely when they flower.

I have Antirrhinums flowering in the garden which survived the icy Winter

and Foxgloves.

'To keep her slender fingers from the sunne
Pan through the pastures oftentimes hath runne,
To pluck the speckled foxglove from their stemme
And on those fingers neatly placed them.'
(William Browne of Tavistock)

This shrub is just starting to flower but I have completely forgotten what it is called.

On one of our local walks with our dog a few days ago we very appropriately saw... this Dog Rose!

'When the spring came forth in her May-day mood,

Methought 'twas a beautiful sight to see,

'Mid the bursting buds by the zephyr wooed,
The green leafy sprays of the wild-briar tree.

When the sunbeams shone with a warmer glow,
And the honied bells were sipped by the bee,

Could the woodlands a lovelier garland show,
Than the wreath that hung on the wild-briar tree.'
(S. Waring)

We also saw


Red Campion

'None can have a healthy love for flowers
Unless he loves the wild ones'
(Forbes Watson)

White Campion

It was lovely to walk through here in the shade, as although it was early evening, it was still very warm. As we did so...

we saw this.

'In riding a horse we borrow freedom'
(Helen Thomson)

We heard lots of unidentifiable :( bird song as well as one or two which I did recognise such as Chiffchaff and as we wended our way back towards home, singing its little heart out high in a tree, we glimpsed the inevitable...


Finally, as I started this post with someone who had shown far too much interest in the suet treats hanging in the apple tree, I will finish with someone else who constantly tries to find a way of reaching them!