The North Wind now blows And we shall have drizzle Through spring’s tender leaves Hear it howl and it whizzle It bites at our ears and it nips at our nose And if you’ve just washed your hair it’ll make it all frizzle
OK so the last bit doesn’t scan so well and the ‘poor Robin’ didn’t get a mention – but if he’s already put his head under his wing – he’ll never notice, will he?
Eleven o’clock on a miserable, cold, blustery, grey Sunday morning and the Dandelions are all still fast asleep with the covers pulled up over their heads.
It’s amazing how much you can learn from nature, isn’t it?
There’s an ash tree at the corner by the stables. Up to now it hasn’t been too important to us, but now, with most of the rest of the hedge in full leaf (we can still see the flick of brown that indicates the presence of a something or other but not what it is) the ash tree, standing there, still with no foliage at all (although there have been some flowers) has become a focal point on our daily route.
Every now and then we see a largish brown bird, it could easily be a female blackbird – or anything really, so to find one sitting on the ash tree’s bare boughs and with the sun behind us, was a stroke of luck. Then to top it all he started singing in that repeating phrase style that marked him as a Song Thrush.
I didn’t get to record much of his song and the wind was bringing the traffic noise from the direction of the main road – but here’s a short snatch. More to see what happens when I add it to the blog than anything.
There are almost innumerable sites (ask Google) who will explain to you what “N’ere cast a clout till May is out” means. Just in case you’re wondering it means “Don’t put your warm underwear away until the weather warms up”.
Most explanations focus on the problem identifying May. Is it May the month, or is it May the blossom. A lot of people feel that waiting until June – i.e. the end of May is being a bit too cautious and anyway June 21st. is the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice, so if you’re still wearing your long-johns by then you might as well keep them on ready for next winter. The May blossom, on the other hand, often appears by the end of April (not this year though) and April showers can easily turn into nasty mean, vicious hail, sleet and snow storms.
That very nasty cold April wind is, at the moment, blowing around large clumps of cast off fleece. Many of the sheep are looking decidedly tatty as they shed their winter underwear in large handfuls against any hedge or fence they lean on.
They’ll be sorry! The May blossom, let alone May, isn’t out yet.
We had an email from Automattic recently – they wanted all WordPress users to join them in a 5 kilometre ‘something’. You could walk, swim, ride – whatever you wanted, but you had to do it between 23rd and 29th of April. The Dog and I decided to have a go.
So we needed to find a route that would take us over the required 5K, we didn’t expect a mere 5K to be a problem.
The first thing we found is that we probably walk a mile or a mile and a half on our usual outing. That was a bit of a reality check – 1.5 miles divide by 5 and multiply by 8 is only 2.4 kilometres (by the way, these are ‘kilo-metres’ that we are walking not ‘klom-iters’) so doing it the other way round meant 5 divided by 8 multiplied by 5 or 3.125 miles – almost twice as far as we would normally go. Hmmm . . .
So here is the final route :
Down through the village, across the bridge and up to the main road. Back the same way but turn left at the pub and go up (again) past the farm and the school, then turn left and carry on up to the T junction. Back down all the way, past the turn off to the school and on to the end, then round past the stables and back home to where we started from. 3.1-something miles – as near as 5K as you can get it doing the arithmetic in your head.
It took us an hour and a half – we stopped a few times to take photos and to look down rabbit holes – we weren’t in any hurry.
We found this sort of lilly thing growing in all sorts of places – mostly under hedges and in the woods. So we looked it up on Google and decided it was Ramsoms. Ramsoms turn out to be a most interesting plant (if, indeed this is what our plant is) it is also known as Wild Garlic but is actually a relative of Chives. As there are other plants around that look like this – but are poisonous (Arum Lilies for instance) we need to carry out a simple test – see if it smells of garlic. We’ve not done that yet but it is now high on our list of priorities.
Ramsoms have another name too, Bear Garlic. Indeed its latin name is Allium Ursinum. Wikipedia says this is because Brown Bears are very fond of the bulbs and have a habit of going round digging them up.
Of course, they could be just digging a trap for a heffalump.
Here he is again – but who is he? He sits on the hedge watching us pass, sniggering to himself.
“I know something you don’t know,” he says with a smirk. It’s got to the point where we almost pretend not to notice him sitting there. His yellowness doesn’t seem so out of place, now the varying shades of brown and grey of the bare branches have been replaced by the pale green of the new Hawthorn leaves.
We are becoming more and more inclined to believe that he is a Yellowhammer. The RSPB has him on the Red List, but either he needs a fairly large territory or we have several pairs along our daily walk route.
I’ve long supported the idea that all wild flowers should be genetically engineered to have a bar code label on the back of their leaves – to assist in identification. We definitely need something similar for birds.
Perhaps we could revive the government ID scheme but this time extend it to include all flora and fauna.
Today was misty and overcast with a chill wind blowing and the clouds, who had all got up late this morning, rushed along in a mad hurry to try to get there on time. The Dandelions – and the few Celandines that are still flowering – were all shut up tight. They must have opened the shutters this morning, peeped out, then quickly gone back to bed.
You know what they say about Mad Dogs And Englishmen? I wonder if Noel Coward would have considered the same stiff upper lip necessary to go Out in the Morning Drizzle.
I stood there in the middle of the grey day, watching the grey clouds scudding overhead and staring at the grey misty hills, thinking to myself that the windmills must be making grey electricity this morning. Quite suddenly, by some quirk of cloud shape and size, a row of sunbeams broke through and, almost seeming to rotate in sympathy with the windmills, raced across the hillside behind them – the rays of sunlight fluorescing in the misty air and their spotlight like footprints chased, one after the other, over the fields and hedges.
And then they were gone.
I did manage to take a picture of one of them with the camera – but the photo certainly doesn’t do justice to the magic of the moment
We are now past the middle of April so the May Blossom should be gearing up. Here’s a spray of incipient blossom still tightly closed up. Is it going to make it? Will May get here and there will be no May blossom? You can see the national headlines can’t you? “Another U Turn by Government means May Blossom misses May”. Actually, I can’t remember if Mrs May was elected or not last time. I don’t really keep up these days. The Dog remembers tearing that edition of the newspaper to shreds but she can’t recall the headlines exactly.
We’ve had some strong winds (again) recently and as we walk we’ve noticed a sprinkling of blackthorn blossom on the road, I hope those bees have managed to get round everybody, the blossom doesn’t seem to have been around for that long.
It must be a bit ticklish, mustn’t it, having bees clambering round your private parts? Particularly those bumblebees, they batter around like a bull in a china shop. Are the flowers a bit embarrassed by it all do you think, or do they ‘Lie back and think of England’?
The Dog wasn’t that concerned but I noticed that one of the three windmills on our walk wasn’t working again today. There was plenty of wind and the other two were hard at it, growing electricity. When I first noticed the idle tyke, there seemed to be something wrong with the blades. The top one seemed to have a large black something stuck on it. There’s a place on our walk where a rise in the ground conceals the main towers and you can stand at the gate into the field and watch the tips of the blades appear and disappear on the skyline – as if they were waving to attract your attention.
This is the uppermost blade of the loafer, just sitting there ignoring the wind. If you look closely you can see that the blade is feathered – so I suppose there is some justification for this rush of inactivity.
I’d rather think that someone has been working in the field and has taken his dust-coat off and hooked it over a convenient post when he popped outside for a smoke break. The Dog can’t work up any enthusiasm for windmills but feathers can be interesting.
We’ve spent the spring watching the frolicking of the lambs and chatting to any number of sheep – sheep are quite chatty, some more so than others. The lambs are growing fast and no longer hang around the ewes but tend to form little teenage gangs in a corner of the field away from adult supervision. So we were quite pleased to start seeing cows back out in the fields – they’ve been indoors for the winter. Some people we chat to on our walks are faintly disapproving of this and feel that it is still too soon for the cattle to be out. The Dog and I however, are pleased to have a break from sheep. Cows, it must be said, just don’t seem as friendly as sheep. Still, it was a welcome relief to be able to take a photo without having to try to frame a picture that didn’t contain any sheep. We’ve been promised snow – but what do weather forecasters know about it? We do have the bitingly cold wind from time to time but in a sunny sheltered spot it can be almost summery.
I hope someone’s crocheting this little chap a blanket – just in case.
As The Dog and I dawdle along we often catch a glimpse of a wren. He is usually far to busy too stop and talk to us having important business to attend to in another part of the hedge. Being so small he flicks in and out of sight as he flits about – from his perspective the spaces in between the twigs and leaves give him huge gaps to move through and he seems to fly along the middle of the hedge as easily as he flies through clear space. This makes it almost impossible to get a photo of him. We do however have innumerable pictures of the hedge – just after he has flown on to his next appointment.
What a surprise then, today not only was he sitting on a branch sticking out of the top of a tallish section of hedge but that he sat there and sang for a good few minutes. Well I must qualify that. He stayed perched on the twig but he didn’t sit still. He’s a bit of a fussy Prima Donna. “Is my hair all right like this? Do you think this is my best side? Shall I smile or shall I be dramatic? I really think that this is my best side. Have you finished yet? Good!” “Bye!”
First we had the Celandine then hot on their heels came the Dandelion – hardly had the yellow carpets of early spring started to fade away when it suddenly reappeared with renewed vigour as the Dandelions got into their stride.
You can’t help but find them likeable – I know they’re weeds and will take over the garden if you give them a chance – but they put so much effort into being bright and cheerful – we’d all miss them if they weren’t around.
Mrs Grieve writing in the 1890/1900s, when herbs were still an important feature of medicine, recommended growing dandelion as a crop for medicinal use, and quoted yields of 1500lbs of dry roots per acre – she did also recommend the removal of all the flower heads before seeding.
The name is supposed to have come from ‘Dent de Lion’ or lions teeth. Mrs Grieve says that some people have suggested that this was because the brown root is stark white when cut, looking like a mouth full of teeth.
I’ve always preferred to think of it as a reference to the shape of the leaves, either looking like a lions teeth or looking as though a lion had just taken a big bite out of them.
The Dog and I take much the same path everyday, partly because there’s something new to see almost everyday – in fact its usually when we go ’round the block’ and don’t notice something new that sends us off on a new vector.
This constant tramping along a well known path means that we are getting quite well known to the locals. This guy often watches us go past. The funny thing is that the sparrows clutter up the hedges near the houses and you begin to think that sparrows must be the most common bird in the world – well in our world anyway – but move a little way away from human habitations and chaffinches predominate, each with his allotted section of hedge – and woe betide any chaffinch who trespasses in someone else’s hedge!
Mostly they just ‘carry on as normal’ as we walk by but just occasionally we catch one on his tea break. This guy was kind enough to pose for the camera even though I was standing and pointing a large black whirring thing at him from only a few feet away.
The next flowering tree has suddenly sprung among us. I think it’s a Wild Cherry, the trouble is that so many trees have those little white flowers it’s hard to be sure.
In October I found what I was sure was Crab Apple – the fruit were hard as nails and tasted really sour and ‘dry’ – I was sure I was going to be able to remember the position of the trees in the hedge row. Any time now the Crab Apple is supposed to come into flower. These flowers are on trees that are nowhere near where I thought I remembered the Crab Apples. So, are these really Crab Apple flowers – and I just remembered the hedge wrong, or are the Crab Apples just not in flower yet and these are something different? Like Wild Cherries?
The Woodland Trust website (see link above) notes that wild cherries are the preferred fruit when it comes to making Cherry Brandy – hmmm.
All through the winter, so as not to dent his street cred, The Gorse has been flying a holding pattern, so to speak. Now spring is here at last he is putting on a fresh green vest and a splattering of brand new yellow flowers. Just in case anyone thinks having yellow flowers is a bit sissy-ish he is also sharpening up his claws – er, thorns.
His old vest had become a bit worn and threadbare – he had worn it all winter after all – and there were brown and grey splotches showing here and there and the green was looking decidedly dowdy.
‘e’s ‘ard you know – no one else stands there all winter, through snow, sleet, frost, driving rain, you name it, keeping up appearances, maintaining a few blooms – “Whence all but he had fled”
Now, at last, he can put on a clean shirt and comb his hair. Don’t think you can take any liberties, though, just because he seems to be in a good mood – those thorns are for real!
The Dog and I were wending our way wearily homeward today when a shadow flickered across the sun (who had just peeped out from behind the clouds to make sure we were there). Looking up we saw a flock of sea gulls. They obviously had some destination in mind as they soon started circling above whatever-it-was. While we watched, or rather I watched – The Dog had discovered something much more interesting amongst the grass of the verge, other flocks came hurrying along to join in the mêlée, circling and diving together.
It reminded me of one of those nature programmes you see on TV of a shoal of fish diving and twisting around a food source.
It struck me that the similarities were not that amazing, really, both the fish and the birds are completely at home in three dimensions – it’s only because us humans are stuck here with our feet firmly on the ground that we are inclined to stand and stare.
With all the problems we had getting some action from the Blackthorn – many of whom remain unconvinced, or have put out a few tentative flowers – just put out a toe to test the weather – we now have bluebells. Too early! I wasn’t expecting them until the first week in May. Still, I have to say, now the spring flowers have got going they are popping up all over the place. A good thing too. As the hedges and trees come into leaf it is getting harder and harder to see the birds – if it wasn’t for the flowers we would be reduced to taking pictures of sheep, there’s plenty of those around.
Speaking of sheep, we came round a corner the other day and there was a sheep, busy munching her way along the (rather narrow) verges. I stopped, unsure what the outcome of our meeting, in the narrow confines of the high hedges, might be – sheep with lambs can be quite aggressive towards dogs – I needn’t have worried, the sheep, after one guilty glance at us hurried off down the road, squeezed between the gate post and the hedge, jumped over the low wall put there to block the gap, ducked under the wires of the fence and through the ‘tunnel’ at the base of the hedge. She then trotted nonchalantly off into the middle of the field. She had obviously used the route before and equally obviously understood that she wasn’t supposed to be out in the road.
Here’s another black bird we often see out in the fields – this one is definitely a social bird as they are always in flocks or small groups. They have been reading the RSPB website.
Earlier in the year, when the fields were being regularly manured, The Dog and I passed a large gathering of rooks, crows and jackdaws spread over two or three fields. A jackdaw in one field decided to move along to the next and skimmed over the hedge to join the crowd on the other side. What caught my attention, as he did so, was that he gave a very bad imitation of the call of a sea gull. Almost as if he himself felt that his call was far from convincing, his second or third try ended in what sounded like a chuckle.
I think he must be fairly well known amongst the others as a practical joker – they ignored him completely.
Here’s another one of those shots of a brown bird in the hedge that turned out to be something other than a sparrow (apologies to all sparrows). It looks like a goldfinch to me. Doesn’t something like this make you wonder about Eve O’Lution? You begin to suspect she was “just ‘avin’ a laugh” don’t you?
And then you think about the human race – are we part of the joke? Of course from where we are we can’t see it, it doesn’t seem funny at all to us.
Just like all Goldfinches seem normal to other goldfinches. What do goldfinches think about sparrows – or robins for instance? Do they wonder what possessed Eve to make a bird that looks that ridiculous?
If the whole human race is the result of a practical joke – what’s the punch-line? Are we really that ludicrous? Sometimes it’s not hard to believe.
There’s something about her sense of humour that makes me sure that Eve O’Lution is Irish.
Rooks, as we’ve said before, are noted by most people (web sites) who know, as being sociable birds always seen in small groups or large flocks. Here we have a couple who just want to buck the trend – or maybe they haven’t been to the RSPB website. That doesn’t surprise me – we are so far from the exchange around here that if you want to get on the Internet, it’s quicker to go and fetch it in a bucket than to use what passes for ‘broadband’.
Come to look at the picture again, they both look a bit dishabille I wonder what they’ve been up to? Could it be we’ve a couple of teenagers here who sneaked away from the flock for a bit of ‘quality time’?
This is a Small Tortoiseshell and it’s up so early because it has probably been hibernating over winter – something I’ve often thought about myself.
It’s still sunny most of the day but we have a return of that very cold wind. It’s not strong enough to make walking difficult and, once you get going, it is actually quite pleasant as it keeps you cool. When the sun goes behind a cloud, it’s time to zip your jacket up though. The Dog doesn’t mind the wind as long as our direction of travel is against it. When we turn round and walk downwind, which I prefer, the wind ruffles her coat and rubs her up the wrong way – she needs to keep her shirt tucked in.