A New Leaf

Beech Leaves Mixed
Beech Leaves Mixed

We went out this morning in brilliant sunshine, and it was warm too, what a change! Let’s hope that this means that things have been sorted out in the meteorological department and that we might even have a summer this year. Perhaps that’s too much to hope for – but do your best up there. As we walked down the road we stopped now and then to admire the Meadow Foxtails, who are now showing a good coat of Reynard Red. This is quite a strong colour for a grass, they tend more towards the pastel shades, which is why grass flowers are more interesting, they are harder to spot and more difficult to recognise as being in flower, grass is grass after all.

The Buttercups had obviously had the window cleaners round, their petals were shining so brightly, busy reflecting the sun for all they were worth, it was quite dazzling. As the grasses on the verge have grown taller so have the Buttercups, struggling to keep their heads above ‘water’. The Dandelions are having similar problems, they have a rosette of leaves at ground level so they keep up with the times by growing longer and longer stalks on their flowers. They are now looking like miniature skyscrapers with large yellow revolving restaurants on top.

We have a few Beech hedges around but I thought you might like this one as it has a few Copper Beech bushes intermingled with the green.

Job Done

Dandelion With an Empty Nest
Dandelion With an Empty Nest

I once watched a group of Blackbirds on a lawn. At first, it just seemed to be four birds pottering around on the grass. As I watched, I realised that the group was actually two adult birds and two youngsters. There was very little difference in their size or appearance but there was a great difference in their actions and attitude. The two young birds hopped along keeping close to one of the adult birds. I assumed that this was their mother, as she would occasionally seem to become irritated with their attention and reluctantly push a morsel that she had intended for herself, into one or the other open beak. After a while, the teenagers became fed up with waiting to be fed an occasional scrap and started to prod around in the grass on their own account, still staying close to the parent birds.

This was when phase two of the operation came in to play. The other adult bird started to deliberately pick on the youngsters. As soon as one of them found a seed or insect, their father (I presume) would rush over and elbow them out of the way and commandeer the snack for himself. I felt that this was grossly unkind and I made a note to have a word with him, about caring and sharing, at the earliest opportunity. But young Blackbirds are quick on the uptake, within a few minutes the four birds were spread out over the whole of the lawn and the chicks were no longer showing any signs of dependency.

Here’s a Dandelion contemplating a job well done. He can sit back and put his feet up now all the birds have flown the nest. Might as well get a cup of tea and put the telly on.

May-d It

May Blossom - At Last
May Blossom – At Last

Well, here we are, it’s 29th May – and here we have, May Blossom. Thank goodness for that, we can all take our clothes off at last. The other thing we can do, now the blossom is out, is to cut bits off the tree. Just don’t take the blossom indoors though, that is unlucky. This is only common sense really. The flowers are pollinated by insects who are more at home on road kill and other sorts of carrion and the flower’s perfume is designed to be attractive to them not to, the more finicky, humans.

Now that the fairies are happy for us to cut the tree, this is a good time to collect a bundle of twigs and weave them into a ball. If you did this last year, as soon as you have the new hawthorn ball made, you can burn the old one and get rid of all the problems that beset you through last year. Keep the new one in a safe place, so you can get rid of this year’s problems in the same way next year.

The Hawthorn is called a Hawthorn because the old name for a hedge was a haw and haw thorns were the bushes of choice if you wanted a good solid hedge that the sheep and cattle wouldn’t be able to break through.

And they do look pretty in May – if they make it in time.

Woof! Woof!

Sheepdog - With All Mod Cons
Sheepdog – With All Mod Cons

Sheepdogs are a breed apart, they don’t just herd sheep, although that’s what they like to do most of all, it gives them immense satisfaction to gather a scattered flock together and push them gently in the right direction, sheepdogs care for sheep in much the same way that the shepherd cares for them. To the shepherd the sheep represent his income and the continued survival of his way of life, to the sheepdog the sheep represent his or her life’s work.

To the sheep, the dog will often be someone they have grown up with and in many ways someone they trust. The Dog and I have stood and watched in awe as a small flock of sheep actually followed a sheepdog from one field, down the lane and into another field while the shepherd stood by his parked truck and whistled his instructions. As soon as the sheep where safely ensconced in the field with the gate closed, dog and shepherd jumped into the truck and drove off.

Quad bikes, of course, are the new thing and they do for a farmer what a good horse did for the cowboy in the wild west, they make it possible to compete with the animals on their own terms – something we fragile bipeds can’t hope to do.

But a quad bike will never care about sheep the way a sheepdog does.

Duvet Day

Dandelion - Duvet Day
Dandelion – Duvet Day

We have had two marvellous days weather-wise – yesterday and the day before. Today, just to make sure we don’t expect a summer this year, the weather has fallen back into its old habits, We have grey skies splattered with rain clouds and a very grumpy wind stomping round rattling doors and slamming bin lids, generally making it known that he is not happy and that they better do something about it pretty soon or there will be trouble!

The Dog had planned to sit on her favourite chair for most of today and then this evening watch a little television – she enjoys wildlife, farming and gardening programmes –  she had hoped that Jackie and I would, perhaps, go out for our morning walk and leave her at home. As it happened both Jackie and I were feeling the same way, but conscience won out over convenience and we all three set off in the end, telling each other that this would be just a short walk.

On the way down to the beck, with my collar turned up and my fingers tucked inside my sleeves to keep them warm, or at least out of the direct blasts of icy wind, I noticed that most of the wild flowers on the verges, had taken the sensible option and stayed in bed this morning.

The Dandelion had one eye open, but he still had his duvet tucked up round his ears.

All Over Too Soon

Bluebell Glade
Bluebell Glade

There are still large numbers of bluebells about – true most have lost the deep blue they had when they first burst into flower, but even as the colour drains away and they become pale shadows of their former selves, glimpsed through the trees, a large spread of flowers carpeting a glade, or perhaps just a patch of sunlight, can catch your breath. Bluebells are one flower that definitely improves with quantity. As a single flower the individual blooms are an attractive enough bell shape, I suppose, but I’ve always felt that that great chunky stalk rather spoilt the effect. It’s no wonder that, over the border in Scotland, they chose the far more delicate Harebell for the Bluebell of Scotland.

Flowers, in general, do seem to excite the senses more when we perceive then en mass. Think of a carpet of primroses for instance and the more delicate violet is absolutely lost individually but quite eye catching if you come across them dominating a patch of roadside verge, short grass or moss.

A clump of bluebells on the roadside, is interesting enough – the first time you see them but, really, you might as well pick a bunch to take home and put in a vase. They are just not ‘full on’ flowers, they don’t have the size or texture to make a coffee table or sideboard their own. Buy a bunch of dahlias or chrysanthemums if you want flowers in a vase, cut flowers have been bred for the job. Bluebells come into their own when seen out of the corner of your eye through dappled light filtering through leaves. It’s that stab of beauty, that millisecond surge of emotion so beloved of poets. That’s where bluebells come into their own.

Vhich Vetch?

Common Vetch
Common Vetch

There’s Bush Vetch, it grows everywhere and it has leaves with hairs that stick out the ends of the leaves. Then, there’s Common Vetch, it grows everywhere and has hairs that stick out the ends of the leaves. Sometimes the plant world really irritates me, I think it does it deliberately. They both have green leaves, they both have those funny purple flowers and they both have pods with little peas in them. If they want to be different, that’s fine, but they should have a bar code or something somewhere on the plant so that we could identify them if we needed to.

And this is the nub of the matter, do we really need to know that these are different plants, couldn’t we just lump them all together and call them Vetch?

Well, here we have a photo of some sort of Vetch, there is a lot of it about, so we are going to assume that it is Common Vetch. There, problem solved.

Being from the pea family, it does that thing with nitrogen, so it can be grown just to be ploughed in. It is also often grown as a stock feed and generally animals love it and will eat too much of it, if they are given the chance.

They will then complain of stomach aches and pains.

Baa

Two Lambs - where they shouldn't be
Two Lambs – where they shouldn’t be

Today is my birthday and whether you count from one or from zero, this year we are definitely off the end of the scale. This leaves me in a bit of a quandary. You see, my solar panels still seem to be functioning, perhaps not at a hundred percent but not that far off, my inertial guidance systems function up to specification – well, most of the time – as long as Jackie is reading the map, anyway. Admittedly, I do seem to require regular coffee breaks and this may be a sign of ageing, perhaps more telling is the need for a biscuit or a small piece of cake to go with the coffee. I’m not sure if there is any research on the subject – perhaps if you are a humanitarian institution you would consider funding research in this unique field? Please contact me for terms and conditions.

So here we are, we have fallen off the radar, exceeded our original conceptual design paradigm, and it now looks as if the only thing open to us is to become part of the statistics that show up as “Seventy and over”. I suppose I could crash into the Pacific Ocean, if it were a little more conveniently placed. Then, of course, there is always the option to spiral off and eventually fall into the sun. This is more difficult as we so seldom see the sun these days. I’ll have to see what I can come up with.

The field with the lambs in, see photo above, was recently ploughed over and reseeded with grass. This is usually done so that in a few months time it can be mown and stored for next winters stock feed. The lambs should not be in this field – they too are definitely out of bounds.

May Not

Almost May Blossom
Almost May Blossom

Google and I were looking around for something interesting to say about May Blossom without having to go into all that “Ne’er cast a clout ’til May is out” thing. The latest advice, by the way, is not to do so until June, as there may be a sudden cold snap in May. A sudden warm snap would be much more welcome, if you’re listening, up there in the meteorological department.

As I was saying, there I was, paging through list after list of reasons to keep your clothes on when I noticed something interesting. In amongst all the items that Google had managed to find, were quite a number suggesting that we should change the words to say “Ne’er cast a clout ’til April was out”. This was because the May Blossom was appearing earlier and earlier and now the Hawthorn trees were mostly in flower by early April. Then I noticed that the date of all these posts, calling on the Gods of Global Warming, were from 2007.

Here we are in 2013, with May almost over, and it doesn’t look as if this tree, at any rate, will manage to produce blossom in the next week. May blossom in June, whatever next?

There are those who believe that the next Ice Age is on the way. There are those who are convinced that Global Warming will destroy life as we know it. There are those who believe it all went wrong when we stopped exploding atom bombs in the atmosphere. Then, there are those who believe that there is no long term strategy and we just get weather.

Tale of a Tail

Medow Foxtail Blossom
Medow Foxtail Blossom

I know we’ve chatted about the Meadow Foxtail fairly recently, but I wanted you to see them now that they are coming into bloom. As you can see they come in a range of colours and the lower of the two in the picture is starting to show the tinges of red that gives it its name. I will probably take more picture of their colour change, as they become fertilised and age.

The reason for this sudden preoccupation with the grass on the side of the road is straightforward, pretty soon now the man who can will be round with his mower and the verge plants will disappear all in a days work. Already the narrowness of the lanes around here is becoming exaggerated by the growth on the verges and it can’t be long now until someone, concerned with safety, will decide that a quick cut is needed to restore visibility.

The Dog, being vertically challenged, finds the newly trimmed verges much more interesting. She is happy enough to push her way through the shoulder (on her) high undergrowth close to the road but a good trim opens up new vistas and extends the scenic aromas. I don’t mind that much either. Cutting back the burgeoning dandelions and rose bay willow-herb gives the shorter plants a little light and within a few days our verges are speckled with new and different residents, who are all busy making hay while there is a little sunshine.

Home From Home

House Martin
House Martin

We have seen a few house martins flying around as The Dog, Jackie and I patrol our locality. It is, of course, futile to try to photograph them when they are flying around. They are so small and move so fast that only blind chance would place one in the frame – as and when the camera chose to take the shot. Digital cameras are really great for those of us who just want to click away and then look at the pictures later, but the price you pay is that the camera takes the picture at its own convenience with little thought for all the time and effort that went into framing the shot.

We were pleased to find this one sitting on a wire today. I must mention that there were actually two sitting on the wire to start with, but by the time we had convinced ourselves that they really were house martins and not just a couple of sparrows, one of them became bored with our indecision and swooped off for a light snack.

They used to nest on cliffs, but as soon as humans reached the level of intellect necessary to build decent houses, they upgraded to the more modern and up to date option. Very sensibly, they spend our winter months south of the equator. They raise a couple of broods here each year, probably to teach the youngsters how tough life can be, before they potter off for a lazy three months or so in the lush plenty of the tropics.

It’s a good life if you can get it.

Curiosity

Rabbit By The Beck
Rabbit By The Beck

The Dog and I pottered off this morning, thinking we would pop down to the beck and see if it was still as full as it was a couple of days ago. Two dry-ish days and it is back to its normal level, people are in such a hurry these days. We trotted from one side to the other and peered through the railings. Then I noticed something that could be a pair of ears in the tangle of grass, dandelions and nettles on the bank a little farther down-stream from the bridge.

I slowly shuffled round until there was a clear shot and took a few pictures. Meanwhile The Dog was just puffling around in the grass on this side of the wooden fence that separates the edge of the flat road bed from where the bank falls away to the the river bed.

This bank is absolutely riddled with rabbit holes. Maybe it was the fact that safety was just a couple of hops away or maybe they were young rabbits and so inclined more towards risk-taking but, in spite of the proximity of The Dog, she was within six or seven feet of them (although from her height they weren’t visible), they continued to sit there while I shuffled closer and closer.

After a few minutes, I begged to be excused, explaining that we had promised to take a picture of the Ribwort and The Dog and I left to continue our walk. The rabbits seemed totally unperturbed by the encounter.

Startling

Starling
Starling

Well, the big news for today is that it isn’t raining – yet. Today, Jackie wanted to clean and dust. The Dog likes nothing better than to get into a argument with the vacuum cleaner. Dog and vacuum and furniture makes cleaning complex, so The Dog and I went out for a walk while all that was going on. It was a dull, grey day but that nasty cold wind had taken the day off and temperature-wise is was quite pleasant.

On the way back, as we passed the big pine trees that grow up the back of our hill an agitated guttural bird call drew our attention upwards. Whoever it was, was quite high in the ivy covered tree and it took a while to pinpoint the source of the noise, I certainly wouldn’t call it bird song. With a quick point and click we snapped a few photos. Not sure if we had actually been pointing the camera in the right direction, but not wanting to prolong whoever’s agitation we carried on home.

And here’s the picture, a starling. Quite a surprise, we hardly ever see starlings around here. According to the RSPB, they have been having a tough time lately and have needed to go on the Red List of birds needing a little extra TLC.

Starlings are good mimics, and people who are interested in how humans first learnt to speak have been studying what the birds mimic and why, to see if they can pick up a few hints.

Persistant Precititious Precipitation

Meadow Buttercup in the rain
Meadow Buttercup in the rain

Rain, rain, rain. It started late last night and it is still going strong. The Dog and I set out this morning, neither of us over enthusiastic about the prospect of a walk in the rain. But you can’t let a little bit of rain stop you. Can you? We went down the road to look at the beck. It was far too busy to stop and chat. I think it had been ‘Crowd Sourcing‘ and it was full to the brim with enthusiastic supporters, all in a hurry to just get on with it. There were a few cows on the other side of the beck and we said “Good Moo-ning” but they didn’t think it was a good enough day to rate a reply. The blackbird, who lives along the lane was in a grumpy mood and just shouted at us, so we thought, least said soonest mended, and trotted on.

On the way back we stopped to chat to a buttercup. It was feeling pretty miserable too, so we did our best to cheer it up, it just muttered “I don’t want to know, unless the sun’s out.” It probably won’t be pleased to have its picture taken, standing there dripping, in the pouring rain but we did take a quick snap. We had thought of mentioning that buttercups in the garden bring wealth and our garden was just up the road.

Perhaps today isn’t the day for it. Next time the sun comes out and things are looking a little brighter, maybe.

A Tall Tail

Meadow Foxtail
Meadow Foxtail

Grass is funny stuff. It quite deliberately makes itself available to be eaten. You see, if the world was left alone, it would quite happily wrap itself up in forest. Now grass is a sun worshipper and it doesn’t like forest, how can you live in there, it is so dark! Give it a nice clearing any day. As it happens, grazers and other grass munchers tend to be large, so they like clearings too. Not only that but, as these large browsers munch their way round, they trample any tree seedlings, that are trying to encroach the grassy space, into the ground.

So like good marketeers, the grass came up with the idea of offering a free lunch to anyone who is prepared to do a little trampling. They even adapted themselves to growing at the base of their leaves, instead of the tip like other plants. That way it doesn’t matter if the top gets bitten off.

We can’t be sure until the flowers form, but we think this is Meadow Foxtail. Our reasoning here is straightforward, the flowers of Meadow Foxtail appear in May – they are usually the first of our grasses to make the effort.

They like damp moist places best of all – no problem there, then.

Waiting for the Colour Version

Chestnut Flower - About to Open
Chestnut Flower – About to Open

Remember, you saw Chestnut flowers here first! I know they aren’t open yet but we need to stay ahead of the game. Is it going to be a white chestnut flower or a red chestnut flower? An important question.

Dr Edward Bach (1886 – 1936) devised a system of flower essences that could be used by anyone, without any special medical training, to modify their emotional state. Among the thirty six flowers that he recommends, are both red and white chestnut.

White chestnut to quieten an over busy brain for those who, for instance, can’t sleep for thinking about things.

Red chestnut was for those who take their responsibilities for others to extremes – he always phones at eight o’clock, and it’s nearly five past now, I hope nothing serious has happened – for example.

Mrs Grieve (1858 – 1941) mentions that the nuts are not suitable for human food and this may be the reason for its name i.e. Sweet Chestnut – an edible, similar but unrelated nut and Horse, as in only fit for animals, Chestnut. She says that the bark has some medicinal properties. She also relates that during the First World War, Horse Chestnuts were soaked and boiled then ground into meal. This was mixed with animal feed and fed to a cow, a sheep and a pig. The cow and the sheep ate it and showed a satisfactory weight gain and good health but the pig refused to eat any of the food with the nut meal mixed in.

Still, by doing this every pound of nut meal fed to animals saved an equal amount of barley or oats, which could be used as food for people.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

No Americans Please

Garlic Mustard
Garlic Mustard

If you’re American, look away now, or at the very least put your fingers in your ears while you read this. Garlic Mustard is a very useful plant, in fact that’s why it was taken from this side to that side in the first place. It’s not our fault that your flora and fauna can’t stand up for itself, now is it? Just stop whining about it and get the damn stuff eaten.

We need a little entrepreneurial spirit here and the problem could be as good as solved. Let me give you a hint, I know that your wildlife isn’t particularly partial to the stuff but people have been eating it with relish for centuries.

Just think of all those Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato bagels. Yes, I know it’s probably turkey bacon and the way you pronounce tomato makes it virtually unintelligible but a few Garlic Mustard leaves in each Big M?? would soon thin the vegetation.

It just needs a little imagination, pretend it’s a new version of the phone made by that other fruit and vegetable purveyor. A viral YouTube video or two and a couple of Super Bowl ads should move things along nicely – and work out a good deal cheaper than all that weed-killer.

Oh, and by the way, if you stuff the seeds up your nose it makes you sneeze. That’s useful to know isn’t it?

Ta-Daa!

Greater Celandine
Greater Celandine

Earlier in the year we spent quite some time admiring the Lesser Celandine. Very pretty they were too, particularly as then, there were virtually no other flowers around. Of course the Snowdrops and Daffodils turned up around that time, but they’ve mostly gone now and it’s hard to find a Lesser Celandine flower anywhere either.

Suddenly, we have the Lesser Celandine’s larger namesake, the Greater Celandine in the verge (thanks to Wild About Britain for help identifying it). They aren’t actually related at all, and that might be why the Greater didn’t turn up until that little upstart was out of the way. He of course, is a fully paid up member of the poppy family, not a mere buttercup like that Lesser fellow.

The plant is fairly toxic – so it’s best not to eat it. It is though, used in herbal medicine and here, it is best to stick to the recommended dose. It will kill or cure a large number of ailments and is either very good or very bad for your liver.

Someone studying Saxon herbal cures, noted that it was necessary for Greater Celandine to be heated very gently, being careful not to let it burn, in a brass pot. They also remarked that there was a specific incantation, or spell, to be said while heating it. This, they thought, was a way of timing the preparation, not a bad idea when you can’t just check your watch.

Just in Case

Cuckooflower
Cuckooflower

Laidees and Gentle Men. Today for your edification we have the Cuckooflower, but don’t be deceived it isn’t as simple as it seems. OK. Enough. It does seem to be a silly name but ‘Once upon a time’ – probably in the ‘Middle Ages’ – someone, somewhere thought that the plant flowered just when you heard the first Cuckoo.

Times change, the tide turns and Global Warming makes this part of the world too cold and damp for birds as finicky as the cuckoo. They seldom bother with Britain these days. They are doubtless too busy refurbishing the stone farmhouse they bought on the ‘cheep’, ripe for renovation, in the south of France. Still, those of us who aren’t blackbirds, remember them fondly.

To avoid the poor flower becoming the butt of bullying, we ought, perhaps, refer to it by one of its other names, how about Lady’s Smock. As far as Google knows there is no connection between lady’s smocks and the first call of the cuckoo. Perhaps, in those first warm days of spring, it was the practice of the time to give your clothing a good wash and spread the washed garments out over the hedges to dry in the sun.

It is supposed to be edible, in fact one of its names is Bittercress, and naturally, it is full of vitamin C. It is also the favourite flower of the fairies and it is bad luck to pick it during May, so tasting will have to wait until next month.

You can’t be too careful.

Stick Around

Bluebell
Bluebell

When Hyacinthus died and Apollo’s tears fell on the plant that he turned into, the tears wrote “Alas!” on the petals of the flowers. Naturally all this happened in Greek and the Greeks have a word for it. Which saying loosely translates as, English has pinched more than a few words from Greek. The Bluebell belongs to the same family as the Hyacinth but no one has ever suspected it of being involved in the sorry saga of Hyacinthus and Apollo. Its Latin name is ‘Hyacinthus nonscriptus’ roughly translated as ‘a hyacinth with no writing on’ so, you’ll be glad to know that, as far as all that carry on with the discus goes, bluebells are in the clear.

They like to grow in woodland and the deeper the leaf mould the better. Their roots have an interesting trick of contracting and drawing the bulb deeper into the ground. This means that they don’t do well in thin soils. They spread by putting out suckers so, if they are left to their own devices, they can easily become a large clump. This is how we get the ‘Bluebell Woods‘ all over Britain. There are estimates that put as high as thirty or forty percent, the proportion of the worlds bluebells living in our bluebell woods.

The bulbs are poisonous but the sap is really good for gluing feathers in arrows. Oh, and some bluebells are white.

Black Out

Blackthorn
Blackthorn

Something we’ve missed this winter / spring, since we moved from over there to over here, are Blackthorn hedges. Almost all the hedges in the area seem to be Hawthorn. Suddenly the Blackthorn is in flower and we are finding occasional bushes, here and there in a fairly random sprinkle, in amongst the seamless green of the Hawthorn. If the winter hadn’t hung on for so long we would probably have noticed them earlier, but at least they are now trying to catch up and stay ahead of the May blossom.

The fruit that will be the result of these flowers is the sloe. Funny isn’t it? Why didn’t the bushes get called Sloethorn? Plums grow on a plum tree, apples on an apple tree and so on, but sloes grow on Blackthorn. According to Wikipedia the word sloe has roots in German and Slavic words for a plum. This makes it related to things like Slivovitz, that very nice Polish plum brandy. Interestingly Slivovitz is made by fermenting the fruit complete with crushed stone, adding that hint of almond to the flavour.

The other interesting thing about the Blackthorn is that it provides the wood for the traditional Irish shillelagh. Whether this is because it is particularly well adapted for hitting people over the head, or just because there’s a lot of it about, I’m not sure.

Moo No Moo

Moo No Moo
Moo No Moo

Moo no moo. Moo no moo. Moo no moo. The three wise monkeys come from Japan or maybe China, or maybe not. As with many of the things we just accept in the normal course of our daily lives, a great many people know the answer – it’s just that they all know different answers.

One possibility is that you have three tiny worms in your body. Every sixty days, while you sleep, the worms wriggle off to the Gods and tell tales on you. The Gods then decide how bad you’ve been on a sliding scale from instant death (you know if you deserve this) to feeling a bit off colour. There are, naturally, ways to combat the worms. You could, for instance, perform various religious obligations and hope that the priesthood will intervene on your behalf. Cheapskates will just try to stay awake all night on the sixtieth night as the worms can’t leave until you go to sleep.

In Europe, the monasteries of the same period were a little more business minded, you needed to attend to your sins every seventh day rather than every sixtieth. I don’t think any other religion pushed for higher frequency of attendance, so every seventh day must have been all the market would bear.

The Japanese names for the monkeys are “mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru“, strictly “Don’t see. Don’t hear. Don’t speak”. The -zaru part is actually an archaic form of ‘don’t’ and also a pun on the Japanese word for monkey.

So, the whole thing is just a clever joke really.

Push Off

If you go up the road, past the turn that takes you across the level crossing, the remains of an old wood rise up the hill on your left. Long before you arrive in the immediate vicinity, you can tell that the old trees near the top of the wood are the chosen site for the rookery. How anyone gets any sleep there is beyond me. They make such a noise. Continuously.

The buzzards are obviously irritated by all this cacophony and have decided to resolve the issue by eating their way through the whole colony. This is a major task but they feel they are up to it, moreover they feel that this is their true calling and their mission in life. Not only is the noise hard to live with but the rooks have an annoying habit of following the buzzards around and trying to take over any decent bits of road kill they find. So the buzzards’ campaign is aimed at killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.

There always seems to be two or three buzzards just drifting around above the rookery. This agitates the rooks, who suspect that there is more to their presence than local neighbourhood watch duties. Every now and then one of the rooks gets fed up with constantly looking over their shoulder and will rush out from the rookery waving their arms and shouting “Clear! Off!”.

Occasionally this will result in fisticuffs.

2 a.m.

Track Work - 2 am
Track Work – 2 am

You know how you are supposed to go into a deep sleep when you first go to bed, then you gradually sleep lighter and lighter until the middle of the night, after that you go back into a not quite so deep sleep, until you float back up to waking in the morning? And, you know we have the Carlisle to Newcastle railway running past our house?

Well, they’ve been doing considerable maintenance work on the line. We had one evening/night, a few months ago, when the huge track laying system clanked and crunched its way, ever so slowly, past us. It really was quite a sight to see the enormous machine taking up the tracks it was riding on and replacing not only the rails but also the sleepers underneath them. It only travels about a mile in eight hours, so it took nearly that long to cross our embankment.

What we didn’t realise, until last night, was that this massive machine didn’t know what to do with the old rails. Wouldn’t you have thought that if they were going to automate it to this degree, they would have had the facility to put the used rails straight onto eBay or something, you know, “buyer must collect therefore post and packing is free”. I wouldn’t have minded them borrowing my wifi as they trundled past.

We were shaken from our beds at two o’clock this morning by an absolutely unholy racket. It sounded as if a special train of soccer supporters had demanded their human right to carry sledge hammers and where knocking seven bell (at least) out of every corrugated iron barn and garden shed for three miles around.

When the source of the din emerged from behind the hill, all became clear. A couple of cranes were shunting up and down the near track picking up the used rails and carelessly tossing them into a row of wagons on the other track that inched along keeping pace with the cranes. I staggered out of bed wondering if I should phone the police. Then, realising that it was something happening on the railway line, I took the picture and stood there and watched for a bit.

Not Good-for-Nothing

Silverweed
Silverweed

This is Sliverweed or Goosewort or Prince’s Feathers or More Grass or Goose Tansy or Silver Cinquefoil and on and on for a good couple of paragraphs. Now, it is my firm belief, that people in ‘The Olden Days’ or ‘The Middle Ages’ were actually just like you and me. So the average person then, knew just as much about the plants and wildlife as you and I do. They, however, didn’t have easy access to the Internet nor, at the time, were bookshops at the prime of their lives.

So, if a plant has a great many names, it usually means you can eat it or it is a deadly poison, the two most important things to anyone who lived in a rural environment – a common paradigm of the aforementioned times. Next on the list must be that it is either harmless or harmful to livestock, then down the bottom of the list comes that it has medicinal properties.

Silverweed fits neatly into my theory, not only is it non-poisonous but it is reputed to be quite tasty (we’ll try a bit and let you know) most animals – except sheep, this is probably down to bad marketing – or perhaps there’s none left by the time it’s their turn, really like it and it also has quite useful medicinal properties.

Apart from strengthening the faculties, which every herb does without a second thought, it is also good for sunburn.

Busy Bee

Bee On The Rhododendron
Bee On The Rhododendron

We have seen a few bees around, but most have been too busy to stop and chat. I guess there’s not much point in getting up early to avoid the crowds if you’re going to fritter the time away in idle conversation. Certainly, this guy wouldn’t stand still long enough to stay in focus. It was a grey and gloomy day today too, so there wasn’t much light under the trees at the edge of the wood. The whole bush is covered in flowers now and he was trying his hardest to visit them all. He didn’t seem to be very methodical about it though. It made me wonder if he has a pen and ticks each one off as he collects the nectar, these days you’d expect him to do it with one of those hand held bar code readers, wouldn’t you?

Rhododendrons were here before the Ice Age, you know. After the ice went back and hid behind the Arctic Circle, he just couldn’t be bothered to come back, so our flora went on and developed without him. When he was invited back by the nursery trade in 1760 something, he felt quite at home and soon caught up.

Honey made from Rhododendrons is toxic to humans and the flowers are pretty deadly to horses. Humans eat the flowers and the honey and feel really rotten. Horses won’t eat the stuff, unless there isn’t anything else.

That’s just horse sense, I guess.

It Must Be Spring

The First Cherry Blossom
The First Cherry Blossom

At last! Cherry blossom, it must be spring. It’s a good thing we have stuff like cherry blossom to remind us that this is the time of the year to have a good spring clean. The weather certainly doesn’t give us any clues. I’m not sure if it is deliberately trying to keep us guessing and thinks ‘a little bit of this’ then ‘a little bit of that’ is part of the game, or if things have become thoroughly disorganised up there. Perhaps it’s the economic situation. The only guy who actually knew what was going on was laid off in a downsizing drive. They then told the cleaners that it was now part of their terms of employment, and to make sure that all the weather was used up in strict rotation, then to dust the shelves regularly. The computerised ordering system would detect an empty shelf and reorder new weather components on a ‘Just In Time‘ basis.

As you might expect, the cleaners went through the whole place issuing out the dirty old faded bits of sunshine and dog-eared grey clouds. Then they cleaned all the shelves from top to bottom. The ordering system promptly refilled the nice clean shelves with new and shiny weather. This meant that the shelves no longer needed cleaning. To maintain the statistics necessary for their annual assessment, the rack nearest the Tea Room, which has dirty brown clouds and sheets of rain on it and so is the hardest to keep clean, regularly has its contents rotated.

Luckily, they don’t work during tea break and so we do occasionally, have a small patch of sunshine, which is left to cover up a multitude of sins while they all pop out for a smoke.

A Song in the Rain

Song Thrush Singing In The Rain
Song Thrush Singing In The Rain

 

Today’s picture is a Song Thrush. He was singing out of the middle of a very large pine tree and I just couldn’t find him.

Jackie was busy, so The Dog and I set off on our own. We went round to the level crossing to see if there were any trains, but there weren’t. We decided to go on up to the top of the hill and say “Hi!” to the alpacas. Going up the hill past all the rabbit holes in the bank, gives The Dog a chance to pretend that she’s the real thing. We reached the top and found that the alpacas were otherwise engaged and not in their field, perhaps we should have phoned. We felt that we might as well go on round the block, so we did. On the way to the corner where we turn back down past the pig farm it started to drizzle. As we approached the corner, we could hear birdsong, at the corner it was obvious that whoever was making all that racket, was in the big pine tree.

We pointed the camera in the general direction and made a short movie. The lens was immediately covered in raindrops. Finally, we found the source of the singing and after drying the camera off, we took a few pictures.

The video was a blurred but interesting collection raindrops arriving at random intervals. The wind noise all but obliterated the birdsong – but after striping the sound off the movie and filtering everything below a thousand cycles out – we have the little sound clip attached below.

Unidentified Flying Object Over The English Lakes

UFO Over Cumbria
UFO Over Cumbria

I took this sequence of photos completely by accident. I needed some blue sky and green grass for a project I’m working on and yesterday we had blue sky. As we set off on our walk, I stopped when The Dog and Jackie paused to admire the sunshine and fresh air and took this series of four pictures of the same patch of sky for no reason other than it was a patch of blue sky with fluffy clouds with green grass along the base.

When I looked at the pictures on the computer my first response was “Drat. There’s something on the lens!” Then I started to look closer.

Let me walk you through the four photos – I’ve numbered them and pasted the time and date from the exif data on them – but other than resize them for convenient web display, I haven’t ‘doctored’ them at all.

1. The first picture I took – note that there is no sign of the misty blob at all – I’ve circled the patch of sky that the blob appears in on the other three pictures and there’s nothing there – so much for the idea of it being something on the lens.

2. Forty seconds later I took this picture and within those forty seconds we now have a blurry blob in the sky.

3. Taken ten seconds later and note two important things about our blob first it has moved in relation to the vapour trail and even though it has moved it has left no trail nor has it become elongated.

4. The last photo in the series – I wish now I’d taken a few more! Another eight seconds later and note that the distance travelled by our blob is much less than in the previous ten.

From this we can infer that we are witnessing heat loss due to deceleration and entry from outside the atmosphere. Moreover the photos were taken looking straight down a part of the road the travels pretty much north-south  so the trajectory and the deceleration suggests landing sites, possibly in Whinlatter Forest or what about Wastwater – our deepest lake? Where better to keep an alien spacecraft?

Greater Stitchwort

Greater Stitchwort
Greater Stitchwort

Suddenly there are flowers everywhere. They all seem to be in a hurry to catch up with the growing season. I hope they aren’t jumping the gun, there aren’t that many bees and the like about yet. We have seen a few bumble-type bees and some of the smaller things that look like a cross between a fly and a bee, oh, and a couple of butterflies – but not enough to get round all the daffodils, celandines and dandelions that have exploded out of the road verges in the last few weeks.

This is Greater Stitchwort. Now that it has its flowers you can see that it isn’t just a stalk of grass. It is apparently, edible, although there doesn’t seem enough of it to make a meal.

The name Stitchwort comes from its use to treat a ‘stitch’ (in the side, as against in time) in the olden days. It is Greater Stitchwort because it has a cousin with smaller flowers.

It is also known as ‘Dead Man’s Bones’ because it has such a brittle stem. It tends to grow in amongst grass and other plants, as they give it some support. It particularly likes the verge of woods and the edge of hedges for the shelter they afford.

We must keep a lookout for the Lesser Stitchwort – and tell it that we’ve seen its big brother.

Full Circle

Bracken Fiddle Heads
Bracken Fiddle Heads

Well, here we are, back where we were before we rushed off and dived into verse. It was hard going, having to rhyme everything and I want to take this opportunity to apologise to some of the poems. They definitely didn’t get the attention they deserved.

I suppose, if I started now I could have thirty nicely polished masterpieces ready for next year, but that would imply planning and forethought – and we can’t have any of that now, can we?

Today’s picture shows an evil menace rising from the depths. These bracken fronds, having poisoned the soil around them to make it taste nasty to other plants, are poised to take over the world. The problem is that the plants themselves are also slightly poisonous and very few animals will eat them. Even humans, who are stupid enough to eat any number of plants that can poison them, have trouble finding a suitable recipe.

The Japanese eat the ‘fiddle heads’, the young shoots before they have unfurled, and complain of stomach ache and unusually high incidence of cancer of the parts of the body that bracken can reach, but it’s a delicacy, so you have to expect some small discomfort, don’t you? Full grown, they are also the preferred roosting site for sheep ticks and a small proportion of sheep ticks carry Lyme Disease.

Bracken may look pretty but it’s part of nature and it fights tooth and claw for its survival.