Tuesday, 18 June 2019

June's Garden

Like any other garden, the University's Botanic Garden in Cambridge would be nothing without the tireless efforts of an army of workers.

No, not the human workers, though they are certainly busy at this time of year too, but the countless thousands of bees who slave away from dawn till dusk, collecting nectar and pollinating the plants.

And they were certainly out in force yesterday - making honey while the sun shines, I suppose.

All along in front of the Glasshouse Range, in one of the most prominent positions on the site, are the specially created Bee Borders, full of the plants that are most attractive to the busy insects.

And there are hives full of honey bees right in among the flowers; accommodation on the job, so as to speak.

The borders are not only ideal for the bees, they look very pretty too, and the hope is that visitors will be inspired to plant up their own gardens with similar flowers. There's even a list of suitable plants which you can pick up on your way out.

The flowers you'll see here vary throughout the summer, but there is a constant supply of nectar for the bees. At present the borders have a strong vertical emphasis created mainly by the towering spikes of foxgloves and delphiniums.

As well as the important research carried out by the University, the gardens also provide information boards to enlighten less knowledgeable visitors.

Although many of these boards are clearly designed with children in mind, grown-up explorers can learn a lot too. Well, did you know that plants like foxgloves have a lower lip specially designed as a landing-pad for bees? Not only is it a convenient perch, but it has cone-shaped cells which give the bee a better grip as it alights on the plant.

Yes, there are lots of other plants too; I just got rather carried away with photographing foxgloves.

All in all it's a paradise where bees and other pollinating insects can live out their brief but important lives - and it's an extremely pleasant place for us less industrious individuals to while away an hour or two.

Human visitors come here from all over the world and yesterday there was also an insect that had made quite an impressive journey on beautiful but delicate wings...

It's a Painted Lady butterfly, the first I've seen this year, looking rather washed out and tatty after flying over from mainland Europe. Apparently there's been quite an influx of them along the coast in the last week or two. Maybe we'll have another bumper year for them during 2019.

Take care.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Green River

Rose at Time Stand Still, a photo blog has recently published two posts with old Creedence Clearwater Revival hits as their titles, so here's another. The Green River that John Fogerty sang about was Putah Creek in N California, a long way from the green river I'm talking about here.

This is the River Mel, just a short walk from my back door, and it's about as far as I've been venturing during the rainy weather we've been having. I have managed to do a few things in recent weeks: I met up with my American second-cousin who, as it happens, comes from mid-way between Putah Creek and John Fogerty's childhood home in Berkeley, though being a few decades younger than me she may not be aware of the connection; then I went to a wonderful concert by Irish accordion-player Sharon Shannon and her band; oh, and I'm a year older than I was last time I posted.

My "green river" is extremely green right now after all the rain. It's also "green" in the other sense in that its waters are very pure having percolated through the chalk hills just to the south of here. I may well have seen a water vole, though it was difficult to get a proper view through all the vegetation!

On the little footbridge I noticed the fallen elder flowers floating on the thin layer of water that had collected on the hand-rail. I wasn't expecting to find such a delicate floral arrangement on a piece of rusting iron!

In places it looked positively tropical, a rain forest on my doorstep, though the chilly raindrops falling on my neck told a different story. The logs and stakes you can see in the river are here to maintain a fast enough flow to keep the stream clear.

From time to time you'll see birds like Kingfishers, Little Egrets and Grey Wagtails frequenting these waters.

There's a small area of meadow where you might come across the beautiful flowers of Meadow Cranesbill.

The village is very fortunate to have a public footpath running alongside the little river, as both the path and the river cut through the properties of people who live on this side of the high street - it could only happen in England! The exact history of how this came about is something of a conundrum and may be the result of a change in the river's course some centuries ago.

However it came about, it's a lovely place for a stroll and I usually meet someone either walking their dogs or just taking the air, though not so many on rainy days like this!

The Field Rose is blooming in June just as it should, whatever the weather may throw at it. The sight of any of our wild roses in bloom used to be enough to start the older farm-workers predicting that harvest would begin in six weeks, which must have occasionally been right. As I emerged from the wood and took a path across the fields the weather started to brighten up and make their predictions at least seem a possibility.

Take care.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Long Walks For Tiny Treasures

If you visit a Nature Reserve and are disappointed to find nothing of great interest, there may be one or two reasons. Either you're not looking hard enough or, more likely, you're there at the wrong time of year. In order to negate these possibilities I've been walking to as many reserves as I can this year. These are the results so far.

Green-Winged Orchid

These pretty little orchids are in serious decline and can only be found in a few scattered places. They need traditionally managed meadows to survive and can not tolerate any chemical intervention, either fertilizers or pesticides, which modern farming relies upon. It's only through historical anomalies that such unimproved grassland has survived and most of the sites are managed by various wildlife trusts.

It differs from the more widespread Early Purple Orchid in that it has "wings" which are striped with narrow greenish or purple parallel veins which you can clearly see in the close-up photo above. You also see occasional pink flowered Green-Winged Orchids and I've seen photos of white flowers too.

Fly Orchid

This tiny orchid is one that you could easily miss unless you know exactly where to look. Although they look like little flies what they are trying to attract are digger wasps, and their fragrance apparently imitates the pheromones of that insect. The wasp then comes in and attempts to mate with the flowers passing pollen from one plant to another. All of which suits the flower but must be both frustrating and embarrassing for the male wasp!

That's the top of my index finger on the left to give you some idea of how insignificant the Fly Orchid actually is. The plants I saw were no more than 2½ inches (4 cm) tall, though they can grow much taller.

Field Fleawort

These are also easy to pass by as they look similar to a lot of other more common wildflowers. Again it is a plant which is in rapid decline as it needs traditionally managed grasslands. However it is also declining in some places where naturalists are trying to do everything possible to conserve it, which is puzzling and worrying.

White Helleborine

This is a handsome plant of beech woodlands on chalky soil. It ought to be easy enough to see but somehow its pale colours fade away into the dappled shade.

They never seem to open up fully so you never get the chance to appreciate that they are actually one of the more impressive members of the orchid family.

Clustered Bellflower

Another plant of chalk grassland and one that always causes a second or two of excitement until you realise that it's not a rare gentian but Clustered Bellflower. Never mind, by any name it's just as beautiful.


This rather plain, greenish flower, on the other hand and despite appearances, is actually an orchid. It gets its name from the two leaves at its base. It grows in considerable numbers in a meadow just a mile or two from home. 

Burnt-Tip Orchid

This is another small orchid, but it needs a bit more effort for me to get to the only place that it grows in this area. Although the tip can appear almost black on some plants (hence the name) this one looked more like some blackcurrant juice had been splashed on it. They grow in rather unpromising sites often on hilltops where there are thin soils over chalk. Like most of the plants here, it's competition from other plants that prevents it being more widespread.

Take care.

Friday, 7 June 2019


I lack the necessary patience, skill and lenses to ever be a decent wildlife photographer, but from time to time little wonders of nature are obliging enough to stray within range of my camera. So here are just a few examples:

"Come on, children, it's just that annoying old chap with his little camera".

Canada Geese are not native to Britain but survive and thrive here. We tend to glance at them with little interest as they are so common, and that's a mistake because they are interesting birds. Like many geese they eat a lot of grass, a food source which they are ill-equipped to digest; the proof of this fact can often be found on the soles of your boots!

Black-Headed Gulls are also a common sight here, both on the coast and inland. During my childhood they would appear seasonally and a flock of them following the plough was a welcome novelty. Now they make a living off the rubbish dumped in landfill sites. Somehow they prosper on this diet of rotting food waste and convert it into beauty in the form of graceful, silvery flight.

This photo of a garden spider has been sitting patiently on my hard-drive since last autumn. But that's what spiders are good at - waiting patiently. I'm often amazed at some of the unpromising locations where they decide to build webs; in the cupboard under the kitchen sink, for example. Very few flies seem to venture into the darkness but somehow the spider survives. My father had one in the boot of his car for many months; if he destroyed the web it simply made another. When we eventually located the web-builder it was a large and healthy-looking specimen despite the lack of insects. 

The Shelduck is as big as some geese and is a strikingly handsome bird that I always love to see. Despite it spending a lot of time paddling about on muddy estuaries and marshes it always looks immaculate.

A Grey Squirrel of the black variety! These dark-coloured squirrels are becoming more and more common in this part of the UK and seem to survive perfectly well in all sorts of habitats - this one was at the edge of a supermarket car-park! 

Mrs Mallard with what looks like just one duckling. In fact there are three in that fluffy pile, though she probably started off with more than that - life is tough for baby ducks.

A Swallow perches on a sign. Most keen bird-watchers from this part of the world will recognise that I've been to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere on the Suffolk coast. Swallows used to be so common, though in recent years there are very few in the skies around my home area. Elsewhere they seem to be doing a lot better.

"Come along now! That's enough photos for today!"

Take care.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Strawberries, Wigwams And Flying Pigs.

A few of the sights as I wandered around Strawberry Fair, 
a free but huge festival put on "by the people of Cambridge, for the people of Cambridge". 
It would be impolite not to go.

Everything was relaxed and colourful on a perfect June afternoon.

Plenty of things to buy - but no hard sell.

Afrika Simpson,
on the Street Performers Stage

A parasol would be a useful purchase
for a warm afternoon.

Matt Woosey
on the Flying Pig Stage.

I know he's coming to the UK
but surely he won't be coming to Strawberry Fair...

….even to see 
Miss Roberts of the Rude Mechanicals.
Like nothing you've ever heard before.

Wigwam people.

The Cambridge Community Circus
was flying high!

And a few pics of perennial crowd-pleasers,
The Big 10

Take care.