Wednesday 30 March 2016

Time For Some Tulips

I've managed to get to the Cambridge University's Botanic Gardens in each month so far this year and hope to continue this throughout 2016, whether I make it or not remains to be seen - I'm not the greatest at sticking to my plans and tend to veer off in unexpected directions. 

Anyway here's March's instalment in the life of the Gardens, focussing particularly on the display of tulips in the glasshouses.

Of course, I wandered around outside too and I might just find some more pictures in a day or two......

Take care.

Sunday 27 March 2016

An Afternoon Stroll - Cavenham Heath

Cavenham Heath or Tuddenham Heath? It's certainly nearer to the village of Tuddenham and it's called Tuddenham Heath on my map, though Natural England, who care for the site, are adamant that it's Cavenham Heath. An odd situation.

This is the Breckland. It's an odd sort of place and not the kind of landscape you'd expect to find in the middle of East Anglia most of which is made up of fertile, productive and intensively farmed arable land; something seems to have gone terribly wrong here.

And it started going wrong as long ago as the Neolithic age when farming was already exhausting the dry, sandy soils and the land became broken or breck-land. The land, grazed by sheep, became wide heathlands. The area was still important to early man however; flint was mined here and, as every schoolboy knows, that's what axes and other tools were made from.

From Norman times onwards rabbits were farmed here and there are lots of place-names that incorporate the word "warren". There is still a lot of land under agriculture here though the soils are very difficult to farm. It is also good for open-air pig farming as the land drains easily preventing the pigs turning everything into a huge mud-hole. 

If grazing ceases then birch woods quickly establish themselves and eventually, if left alone, it's thought that oak would take over. Down by the River Lark a different wetland landscape is found.

During the 1920s and 30s, with agriculture and the general economy at a low ebb, the recently-formed Forestry Commission acquired large blocks of this unproductive sandy land and planted huge coniferous forests. Since it offered a chance of employment it was welcomed by the local community. 

Much of the land which escaped being planted with trees was used by the military for training areas and remained as heathland. Cavenham Heath remained untouched because it was used as an military airfield for a time. A few old military buildings remain.

Nowadays the value of land for nature and for breeding birds is recognised and the land is managed by Natural England, a government agency charged with preserving the natural habitat.

In fact, as we have seen, the landscape here is far from natural having been managed, and mismanaged, by mankind for centuries giving rise to the traditional Breckland landscape. The present position is to preserve a balance of all the components of the scenery which are rich in wildlife and of scenic value.

Photo borrowed from the internet.
Oh yes, the interesting and unusual bird 
that I promised you last time. Every March the Stone Curlews return to the Breckland. There aren't many of them but two or three pairs usually nest on Cavenham Heath. They are queer birds: they are not Curlews at all though their calls are reminiscent of the other bird. They are classed as waders, but they don't go near water. They have huge eyes which allow them to be nocturnal though they are also to be seen in the daytime. 

I don't think we'd have ever spotted them if it were not for a couple of birders with a powerful scope who'd seen them at pretty much the same location in other years. 

Take care.

Friday 25 March 2016

A Morning Stroll - Lackford Lakes

In the middle of our generally cloudy week, up pops a bright and sunny morning. Luckily my brother and I had already planned to go out for a morning's birdwatching at Lackford Lakes Nature Reserve near Bury St Edmunds. Looking back at previous posts on the blog I discovered that we were last there two years ago to the day - isn't writing a blog great for keeping track of this sort of thing - and that was a glorious Spring day too.

At this time of year it matters not a jot whether rare or unusual birds are about; there's always plenty to see and hear - Blue Tits exploring every nook and cranny for nest sites, Wrens belting out their piercing song from the undergrowth, Robins singing pleasantly in the sunshine, Blackbirds collecting nesting material....

Then there are the special surprises - Chiffchaffs just returned from overwintering in North Africa, Great Crested Grebes shaking their heads at each other in display and the sudden eruption of loud song from a Cetti's Warbler. Two years ago there were Egyptian Geese with youngsters, though today just the adults were just goose-stepping around outside the hide.

As a place to wander on a fine morning Lackford Lakes is hard to beat. Good paths lead through varied habitats to excellent hides each looking out onto a different body of water. It's compact enough to cover without too much effort but full of interest and variety.

The reserve is based around some flooded old gravel workings alongside the River Lark. The valley forms a natural corridor for migrating birds while the different pits attract a wide variety of water birds and the scrub and woodland provide nest sites for many other small birds.

Here's a pretty complete list of the birds we saw or heard:
     Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-Tailed Tit, Teal, Goldeneye (just a few still hanging about before leaving for the far north), Shoveler, Great Crested Grebe,Redshank, Wood Pigeon, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Carrion Crow, Rook, Cetti's Warbler, Magpie, Jackdaw, Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Egyptian Goose, Little Grebe, Green Woodpecker, Chiffchaff......(pause for breath)

Wren, Robin, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Black-Headed Gull, Herring Gull, Little Egret, Pheasant, Red-Legged Partridge, Dunnock, Mute Swan, Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Siskin, Wigeon, Gadwall, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Starling, Chaffinch, Kingfisher and..... the last hide we were lucky enough to see three Red-Crested Pochard, two males and one female. They are rather spectacular-looking ducks and it's never certain whether they are vagrants from Europe, have escaped from a wildfowl collection or are part of a small breeding population in Eastern England. As far as I'm concerned it doesn't matter, I just like to see them. If you want to see one too click here.

Finding a pub at lunchtime was even harder than finding birds and we drove past several that had closed down before finding a place for a pint and something to eat. Our afternoon turned up another scarce bird, but more of that next post.

Take care.

Friday 18 March 2016

The Village Over The Hill

According to the BBC's news reports Wednesday's budget leaves me £2 a week better off. "What to do with all that money?" you may ask. Well, yesterday I decided to blow it all on a four minute train journey to Royston, from where I could take a walk over the hill to Therfield. It's one of my favourite villages, not least because it's got a good pub which is always welcome after the walk to get there.

a footpath on the outskirts of the village

 Church Lane

 house with accessories

 cottage with daffodils

 The Fox & Duck pub

daffodils with cottage

St Mary The Virgin

 inside the church


 Old Forge Cottage

 rookery plus rooks

 spring crocus

the sunken path leading away from the village

The walk turned out a bit longer than I expected as the weather tempted me into walking the long way back. The highlight was seeing a herd of over 130 deer on the distant fields.

Take care.

Friday 11 March 2016

Morning Jewels

Winter at last! 
Well, a frosty, foggy hour or two at the beginning of the day. I'd been hoping that the sun would break through the fog, as promised on the weather forecast, but it took longer than they said and didn't produce the effect I'd been hoping for. But like Mr Jagger says "You cain't always get what y' want.........but if you try sometimes, you get what y' need".."  

 dew on a spider's web

bramble leaves

 grass under ice

 hawthorn stump

 more bramble leaves

 frosty grasses

new shoots

blue skies
(no, not really! Just a web on my blue rubbish bin)

Take care.