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.