Wednesday, 23 May 2018

June 2018 -- a meadow pipit and some wood anemones

Meadow Pipit

Our new church clock was installed in memory of the late John Brooks and Doreen was saying that one of their first outings together was a walk up Lark Hill at Delph. Not having visited this local beauty spot before, I took a walk there in some very welcome late afternoon sunshine. The very stony track leads through cultivated grassland and I soon noticed a pair of long dark-coloured ears sticking up above the vegetation. They belonged to a Hare which emerged to run across the field. They are elegant and given their substantial size could provide a good meal if necessary.
     Farther up the path, a Lapwing appeared directly overhead, calling constantly and looping round in series of circles, soon to be joined by a second bird. This means of leading a potential predator away from the nest provided an opportunity to observe the birds from all angles. Soon one of them landed a few yards away, the dark head crest and metallic green plumage giving it an air of some nobility.
     Alchemical mollis is a useful if very invasive garden plant which looks good after a shower of rain because water droplets remain held on the leaves like bright beads of mercury. There is a wild form, Alchemilla vulgaris, compact and a rich shade of green, which has the same moisture holding ability, and is a common plant at Lark Hill. I was interested to read that in ancient times Alchemilla vulgaris was held to have magical powers, being described thus in a sixteenth century herbal:– ‘In the night it closeth itself together lyke a purse and in the morning it is found full of dewe.’
     The weather was perfect as I reached the summit to look down onto Diggle. The sky was a clear blue, the low elmberry bushes were in full flower and a Meadow Pipit perched obligingly on a weathered post. The only grumpiness-inducing moment occurred when an off-road motor cyclist came roaring up the track.
     Walking past Denshaw church yard last month I could see some bright white flowers among the grass. They were Wood Anemones, a plant I have known since childhood. We lived near to some neglected woodland where in springtime Wood Anemones gleamed in the shade. I keep a blue-flowered variety going and while not an ideal garden plant (it disappears below ground after flowering). It certainly is beautiful when in flower.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

May 2018 -- Pied wagtail and the common primrose

Primula vulgaris
Up to now this spring has been largely devoid of pleasant weather. The rain, the bitter cold  and lack of sunlight have made one long for change.
    At the farthest end of the R.S.P.C.A centre grows a fine colony of the common primrose (Primula vulgaris) some plants having spread into the small United Utilities facility next door. This humble flower has over many years been developed by hybridisers into a variety of brightly coloured forms, and yet the pale yellow original has a simplicity and charm which for centuries has held the attention of poets and artists. The primrose once grew in some profusion in the countryside and a late Victorian book on wild flowers tells of the plant’s popularity among people displaced by the industrial revolution. ‘Great numbers of the roots are transported each spring into London and other large towns, and in many a back street and squalid alley the pot of primroses is a link between the present and the past, and recalls many an association with the bygone days to those whose lot now confines them to very different surroundings.’
    As peace and quietness become ever more difficult to find, local reservoir sites offer tranquillity and stillness. On a dull morning recently I was walking by Denshaw reservoirs, the all-pervading greyness seeming to subdue any sense of colour, when a black and white bird landed on the fence. It was a Pied Wagtail — not a species to attract attention when pecking around on the ground — but in the misty light it appeared smart and interesting like a good monochrome photograph.
Pied wagtail
      The upper reservoir there is indeed a tranquil spot and a venerable Sycamore tree slightly overhangs the water. Still bare of leaves it looked beautiful. The pitted trunk, plastered with moss and lichen looks as if it would fit perfectly into a Japanese temple garden. Walking back to the road it was reassuring to hear the rolling call of the Curlew and as the sun briefly shone a skylark burst into song.
      The common small birds of Strinesdale are now very active, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Dunnock etc., and after such a vicious blast as the Beast from the East one wonders what their survival strategies are. Today I was pleased to hear (for me) the first Blackcap of spring.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

April 2018 -- Cyclamen coum and a fieldfare


Last month I wrote about the tiny Goldcrests feeding by the R.S.P.C.A. Centre and I wonder if they were able to survive the fierce storm known as the Beast from the East. Despite more bad weather, things are moving towards spring. Today at the pond in the King’s Meadow low prolonged croaking sounds, like the muted roar of distant motor cycles, could be heard as frogs thrashed about and mats of spawn covered the surface between the reed-mace plants.
     As the Beast receded a striking thrush appeared on the apple tree in our back garden. This was a Fieldfare — a winter visitor from Northern Europe — more often seen in large flocks. Somehow this chestnut and grey bird had recognised that fallen apples lay beneath the snow. As the snow thawed the Fieldfare vigorously drove a sharp beak into the over-ripe fruit, continuing for three days, and when last seen looked in very good condition as if strong enough to re-cross the North Sea. I once saw a large number of Fieldfares feeding in a derelict cider orchard near Hereford.
     I always enjoy watching (and hearing) our native Mistle Thrush. They are early nesters, strong and energetic and can be seen bounding about in local fields. I saw one the other day hopping along the top of a drystone wall with characteristic straight-ahead urgency.
Cyclamen coum
     I have had little success in the garden with the oft recommended winter flowering Cyclamen coum. Our bought plants died but left behind a cluster of minute seedlings. These were potted up last year and placed in the greenhouse.
Disconcertingly the leaves withered away in the autumn, the whole lot coming close to being thrown away, but within a few weeks fresh leaves appeared

followed by delicate pink blooms. Patience required.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

April 2015 -- Greenfinches and a grey wagtail

I always find that the arrival of spring in our region is signalled by two distinct occurrences: the drumming of the Greater spotted woodpeckers and the spawning of frogs. For a few days now, the amphibians have been producing large quantities of spawn in the culvert draining from the Little Sea and small heads are visible above the water, amid faint grunting and bubbling sounds.
     The highly attractive black, white and red woodpecker is increasing steadily, being found wherever there is reasonable tree-cover. Their presence is often indicated by a shrill yelping call, and as I walked along the other morning, one glided overhead emitting a loud staccato chatter. The bird appeared white from below and was presumably a male on a mating display flight. Another bird answered from nearby.
     I love the clear colours offered by Nature at this time of the year. Yellowish-green greenfinches wheeze from upper branches and goldfinches burst into 3-D and glorious technicolour. At the quieter end of the spectrum, I never tire of the flawlessly elegant
Grey wagtail
grey wagtail.
Every so often, I repair to the scenic Castleshaw Reservoirs for some quiet birdwatching. On Sunday 22nd March, though, the approach road held many cars as a marathon-run finished at the study centre. AS the supporters applauded exhausted runners, I walked to the upper reservoir and it was not long before a dainty grey wagtail appeared on the stones at the water’s edge. Following the movement of this bird led to a redshank pecking with great energy between the stone setts. Watching at close range here, it was possible to admire the dark streaks and speckles of the brown plumage. One of the long orange-crimson legs was fitted with a ring. Other wading birds could also be heard. A pair of oyster-catchers circled over the water, their piping sound evocative of the sea-shore, and the magnificent rolling call of a curlew echoed somewhere in the background. A pair of goldeneye ducks could be seen at a distance. Tough little things and low in the water.
     As I walked back down the lane, I happened to glance over the wall to see a slow-moving pair of great-crested grebes. In breeding plumage, they were sedate and lovely on the water, with the ear-tufts up and chestnut neck frills fully displayed. Surely one of our finest species.

June 2018 -- a meadow pipit and some wood anemones

Meadow Pipit Our new church clock was installed in memory of the late John Brooks and Doreen was saying that one of their first outi...