They were busy clearing the footpath that runs alongside the field so I helped them out by grabbing a handful or two of grasses and weeds. I then took them home and used my scanner and a little bit of jiggery-pokery on the computer to create these pictures.....
Monday, 28 June 2021
Thursday, 24 June 2021
When it's the middle of summer - we hope!
A "wash" in the Fens of Eastern England means land which is set aside to hold excess water in times of high rainfall. By allowing these areas to flood it prevents potential flooding in towns, villages and on agricultural land. In winter it's normal for all the land in the photo above to be under water, while in summer it can be used for grazing.
This is what it can look like on a winter's evening when it provides a feeding and roosting site for our winter-visiting ducks, geese and swans. In summer it's an important nesting ground for a number of bird species. It is a vulnerable location however, as its function of preventing flooding elsewhere takes precedence over its use for wildlife. Put bluntly if we have a very wet summer the nests get flooded.
The largest "wash" of all is known as the Ouse Washes and stretches for 22 miles between two artificial rivers constructed to get the waters of the River Great Ouse to the sea more rapidly. Large parts of it are managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. Cattle graze here in summer as they have done on the fens for centuries.
One of the most charismatic species, which can be found throughout the year, is the Avocet. They are so common now that many birdwatchers no longer get excited by them but, come on, such an elegant bird with a curiously upturned bill and blue legs should be a star in everyone's eyes surely. Their arrival on British shores occurred during WWII when they found our beaches, protected against invaders by masses of barbed wire, very much to their liking. Hitler didn't come, but the Avocets did.
The RSPB have adopted it as a symbol of their work, which is somewhat ironic as the birds arrived here and prospered without much help from that worthy organisation.
A tiny Wren was making his presence felt by belting out his brief but noisy notes from a convenient song-perch.
And a bee and a Tortoiseshell butterfly were competing over the nectar of a thistle.
In front of the main hide a juvenile Pied Wagtail was looking rather lost in this big, cruel world.
A Great White Egret stalked the waters of one of the pools. Just a few years ago they were a very rare sight indeed in our wetlands, but it's now a matter worthy of remark if we go to certain places without seeing one.
It was getting mighty warm (by English standards!) as we walked up and down between the various hides and viewpoints. We were probably thinking about our lunch which we'd booked at The Bridge pub - a first meal eaten out since March 2020. But just time to pop back into the main hide for another look at the Avocets....
Another hectic day in the life of the Avocet!
In my last post people were very kind about my odd obsession with battered and bruised peonies, but there were cleverly disguised suggestions that a field of the flowers must have looked very fine indeed. OK, I can take a hint....
Friday, 18 June 2021
Sometimes I go out with a pre-conceived idea of what I might see and photograph (and you probably have some inkling of what to expect when you click on this blog too). But just occasionally I see a scene or a detail that I wasn't expecting and, even more infrequently, this might lead to a series of pictures; though not usually enough for a post of the length that I like. Let me show you what I mean:
Bright, sunny days are not the best for photographing in woodland, particularly when everything is the overwhelming green of mid-summer. Might it work out better in black-and-white?
Last year I found a whole field of peonies which, because of a shortage of workers, or perhaps because florists were closed by the pandemic rules, had been left unharvested. This year the farmer has opened up his fields for the public to "pick their own". It all looks very colourful, but I ended up taking exactly the same shots that I took a year ago. That is until I glanced down on the ground at the fallen petals and a few flowers that had been discarded and trampled underfoot.
OK, I'll admit it, peonies probably look better when they are their full glory beneath a blue, sunny sky.
Wednesday, 16 June 2021
Some real summer weather at last and nature is moving on apace with the business of flowering, reproducing and completing life-cycles before the days begin to shorten (not long now!). Some of this activity is hard to miss, but other aspects require closer observation.
Out on the wetlands the Yellow Irises or Flags add a splash of sunshine to the water margins. They are native to these islands, though elsewhere have become an invasive species.
Those droopy outer petals are thought to be the inspiration for the fleur-de-lys that is much used in heraldry. Lets have a closer look and see what else might be about.
Aha! A delicate jewel trying its best to look like a blade of grass - otherwise known as a female Banded Demoiselle, one of the more common damselflies. "What's 'banded' about it?", you may well ask. That applies to the male which is iridescent blue with a black band on its wings.
A Grey Heron is looking very alert. Whatever was interesting him, it didn't warrant closer investigation as it was still in exactly the same place half-an-hour later.
Water Crowfoot forms mats of flowers in small streams.
This dragonfly kept returning again and again to this reed stalk - which was just as well as I was trying to adjust the settings on the camera! I'm fairly sure this is a Scarce Chaser, which, here at least, was not as scarce as its name suggests.
Greylag Geese have nested a while ago and now have some almost-grown goslings. The other wild grey geese, that are here during the winter, have all flown north to nest and won't be back till autumn.
Another dragonfly came down to land on the footpath. This one looks like a Black-Tailed Skimmer to me. They were first seen in the UK in 1934, but are now fairly common, though still on the edge of their range.
Bee Orchids grow on a small, damp meadow, just a mile or so from where I live. The central part of the flower looks (and apparently even smells) like a bee and attracts other bees to come and investigate, passing the pollen from one flower to another. The bottom flower looks as though it's had a bite taken out of it.
Red-eyed Damselflies come to inspect a Yellow Waterlily. The other name for this plant is Brandy Bottle because it's supposed to have a winey smell. Maybe that's what's attracted the damselflies. Maybe that's why they've got red eyes???
And this little dazzler is the Azure Damselfly.
A Mute Swan and her cygnets seemed to be enjoying the warm sun. The photo was taken with a very long lens from a footpath so as not to disturb the birds.
What could be more elegant, serene and peaceful than this dreamy Little Egret, reflected in the cool, green water?
Thursday, 10 June 2021
Nowadays it's much more popular than it's ever been, as people with time and energy to spare, from the youngest to the oldest, come to toddle or totter to the topmost point to wonder at the beauty of it all.
And this week it was the destination of choice for my brother and myself. Being a couple of perverse old codgers, we set off towards the summit in a downhill direction! The thin soils here overlie the chalk that forms a large swathe of southern England. Where many feet tread the soil soon wears thin and the paths show up as thin white lines through the green. And in places where people veer about to avoid wet patches it can soon form a wide thoroughfare that takes many years to heal again.
After a while we found ourselves walking beside a low, raised mound. It might not look like much but it was raised over the bodies of people who died around 3,500 years ago. It's a burial mound from the Bronze Age. It's thought that they chose high places like this so that their ancestors might look down over their lands, making it clear any incomers that this land was taken.
The land would have been more wooded in those times, even though it was already being cleared by these early farming folk. Just how much was cleared at various times in ancient history is a matter of much debate.
The first top we reached was Gallows Hill and I'm sure you can work out how it got that name. It was quite normal to hang offenders in places where they could be seen all around, presumably as a warning to everyone to keep within the law. Nowadays sheep arrange themselves randomly but pleasantly on that same hillside.
Hawthorn bushes are also dotted artistically across the land.
That's Ivinghoe Beacon off in the distance on the left of the above picture. The Ordnance Survey's maps would have you know that it's officially called Beacon Hill and Ivinghoe is just the nearest village down in the valley. But there are many "Beacon Hills" throughout England. They all formed an essential part of national security at one time; if there was an invasion then the beacons would be lit across the land.
And here's the view from very near the top of Ivinghoe Beacon, a grand place to sit on the grass and absorb the scene. And what always strikes me from such high places is how little of our modern world of motorways, factories and shopping centres is visible. It's quite a different perspective of the country from that gained from inside a car.
During the Iron Age this hilltop was one of many used as a hill fort. The old idea was that these were defensive sites used by warring tribes, but more recent archaeological evidence points to a more ceremonial site built for reasons of prestige. My own idea, for what it's worth, is that they would have been built as places where food stores and animals might be defended in times of famine. I base this idea on the fact that tribes in Africa only usually came into conflict when food was scarce. Farmers are far too busy to fight in normal times.
Most of the defensive ditches around the hill fort are difficult to make out today, but to the south-west of the fort, which would otherwise be the easiest approach, quite obvious banks and ditches can still be made out.
Our route was suddenly running through a woodland that was busy with birdsong.
We didn't need to go through this little gate at all, but we had time to spare so we thought we'd take a quick look.
And we soon found ourselves overlooking a deep hollow called Incombe Hole, set back into the hillside.
Pitstone Windmill showed up clearly against the green fields, looking rather like a child's toy placed haphazardly on the landscape. As anyone who has been following this blog for a while will guess, it's almost certainly built at a very precise location where the wind is usually at its strongest; people of the past were extremely knowledgeable about the subtleties of the natural world around them. The mill, like much of the land around here, is in the care of the National Trust.
This charming nook of land, just through the gate we saw earlier, seemed so little-visited compared to the well-worn path to Ivinghoe Beacon. Surprising really, as it's only a few hundred yards from the car park.