You might also like to check out the new, third site on www.rangerstuff.co.uk ....or perhaps not
Throughout all three websites, the oldest pictures (the first of them uploaded nearly ten years ago) appear at the bottom of the page, the most recent at the top
Cotswold Sheep....A Very Hardy Breed
Above and the Two Below....Tess Working in the Forest Tess and I spent almost exactly half of March 2013 working in the forest and I've uploaded more than twenty pictures of her doing mostly tracking stuff onto the 'Working Tess and Sculpture' page....
As the Temperature Falls
The Road Home
The Cold Earth Slept Below....
"The cold earth slept below Above the cold sky shone"
While the Rest of the Country.... ....comes to a galloping standstill because of three or four inches of snow, we take full advantage of some of the best possible working conditions for trackers.
Reminds me.... of a Backdrop in a Tia Maria Advert
Dor Beetle Liquid Self-Defence Throughout the summer months, I frequently examine Beetles, particularly Dor Beetles, for signs of parasites (it's one of countless indicators amongst various insect species of the disturbingly rapid climate change in the UK and I once counted no fewer than eighty-three parasitic mites on one particularly unfortunate Dor Beetle back in 2010!).
Anyhoo, this 2012 specimen happened to be completely parasite free, but as it lay struggling on its back in my hand, it began to secrete copious amounts of a foul-tasting red liquid designed as a self-defence mechanism against any potential predators. As for how I know that said liquid is indeed foul-tasting....Well, I remember dabbing some on my finger that had been secreted by a Dor Beetle (the liquid that is, not my finger!) I'd discovered on the school playing field when I was a ten year-old back in primary school and then smearing it on the tip of my tongue. Well, who wouldn't? I guess though, I did it partly out of curiosity, but also to 'impress' a girl I had a bit of a thing for at the time! Oddly (and to this day I still don't know why), she suddenly ran screaming and retching from the classroom and refused to have anything to do with me ever again!
Well, obviously, women will forever remain a mystery to me, but I can confirm that although secretion of Dor Beetle may well look like raspberry juice, it does in fact taste more like cat's p*ss....but that's another story....and a different girl!
"Dor" is an Old English word by the way, usually applied to insects that buzz or hum when they fly. Bumblebees for example, were occasionally called Dor Bumblebees or even Dorbees. The latter being the name my uncle Chris the gamekeeper often used. I've wondered more recently if the name of J K Rowling's character, Dumbledor, was similarly inspired to imply that he was someone who tended to buzz about a lot or who hummed constantly to himself? I haven't read the books and only seen half of one of the films so I'm only guessing.
Forest of Dean I
Forest of Dean II
The Same Old Same Old
Heading Home Nice sunset, but the day had been a very wet one.
One Man and His Dog in Complete Harmony with Nature
Helping out a bit by lending the benefit of my so-called experience and wisdom (no, seriously, don't laugh) to a bunch of (to me) very young "professional" men and women on the dos and dont's of approaching a herd of Fallow Deer. The trouble is, British culture is so youth-orientated these days that far too many of them lean way too much towards the arrogant end of the spectrum and can never seem to accept that some bewildered old duffer like me can teach them anything about anything that will be of use at some point down the line. However, here I watch from a distance as one of the cockier ones attempts to do things his way while inadvertently managing to scatter the herd far and wide effectively enough to put paid to the exercise for the rest of the day (no harm done to any of the Deer I promise you). Still, lesson learned I hope, though probably not. Photo taken by "Rat" by the way.
A Small Heath (Smaller in fact, Than My Thumbnail) Taken on 24th May, 2012
2012 however, has been an extraordinarily bad year for Butterflies, at least so far. April was the wettest on record and the first half of May was almost as wet and far too cold for most early emerging Butterfly species. My Butterfly counts too set a new record....My lowest ever for all species except perhaps Orange Tips and, even then, for some inexplicable reason, only two of the 37 individuals I spotted throughout both April and May were females.
In fact, during the first week of May (The week I do the first five of my ten consecutive twelve mile 'Skylark' walks), I counted just seventeen Butterflies of all species (SEVENTEEN!)....and, of those, nine were Orange Tips!
So where were all the others?
The second week was a little better however, with 228 sightings in total, but still poor when compared to my records of just five years ago when I counted an average of 575 a day during the same week! Week 3 of May was also relatively poor, despite the much needed return of warm sunny weather, producing just 416 sightings throughout the seven days, including my first Little Blue on the 17th May.
Large White Feeding on the Lilac in Our Garden....Mid-May 2012
Honey Bee Bees seem fairly prolific so far this year (as of Mid-March, 2012)....or at least as 'prolific' as it's possible for such a drastically reduced set of creatures to be these days. Nevertheless, I have spotted no less than seven species of Bumblebee during the past few days, not to mention seven Brimstone Butterflies across Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire since the 11th March and one very early Small Copper also in Oxfordshire. I caught just a glimpse of an Adder close to its hibernaculum near a lake in the Cotswold Water Park on the 19th March which I think (without actually checking my records) is the earliest I've ever seen one.
Blackcap at My Window
A Bright. but Chilly Start to February ....with an easterly wind blowing all the way from Russia bringing with it a threat of still colder weather to come.
Day of the Triffid 'Then one of the plant creatures passed us by no more than fifty yards away apparently unaware of our presence' (John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris....'Day of the Triffids' aka 'Revolt of the Triffids')
Above and Below....Caught in a Very Sudden and Extraordinarily Localised Storm Today! Into the final week of January 2012 and the media seems obsessed with what the experts are calling a uniquely early spring....but those self-same, office-bound, computer-dependent experts aren't out on the hills with Tess and me and I, for one, don't think winter is finished with us quite yet.
As the Storm Passes Over The pressure dropped like a stone, the temperature fell through the floor, I had to shield Tess from hailstones the size of marbles (and just as hard) and then someone must have emptied God's water cistern all over us because a combination of rain, sleet and snow soaked us to the bone in mere seconds!
Sunset with Stile
"Smile for the Camera" Our tiny wildlife pond is currently playing host to several small Frogs (above and below) and one rather large Toad....The latter having hibernated successfully through that very harsh winter under the adjacent log pile.
"That Damned Elusive Pimpernel" ....Well, actually, unlike the notoriously foppish Sir Percy Blakeney, the flower itself has never been anywhere near as difficult to find as the Baroness Orczy appears to suggest in her famous novel, it being a relatively widespread species that occurs in a variety of habitats right across the UK.
It's also a particularly weather sensitive little flower, closing up as tight as a fist at the merest hint of rain and rarely to be found open anyway beyond the middle of the afternoon. Plus, it's completely nectar deficient, totally without a scent and, as a result, hardly ever visited by insects.
Yet it does have a couple of redeeming features, the most notable of which is its age-old medicinal value as a supposedly effective anti-depressant. In fact, there are those who, even today, believe that a garland or posy of Scarlet Pimpernel flowers hung around the neck of anyone given over to bouts of severe melancholy will greatly improve their spirits and even provide a cure for madness....a firmly held belief that gave rise in the Middle Ages to its more colloquial name of "Laughter Bringer".
Aerial Aggression No skill of any sort on my part involved in getting this shot, it was pure dumb luck that the second male Common Blue happened to fly into frame in its single-minded efforts to attack the first just as I pressed the shutter of my little Ricoh point-and-shoot pocket camera....a window of opportunity of probably less than half a second.
It's well known that Common Blues possess amongst the best movement-detecting eyesight in the entire animal kingdom, while they also have the ability to "scent" other creatures (particularly when it comes to the very bitter-smelling, pig-like scent of a human) up to fifteen metres away. In fact, I'm convinced that I was only able to get so close to such a recently emerged adult (I was holding the camera just four or five centimetres away) because one of its antennae appeared to be broken off (a detail more noticeable in the better quality picture below than the slightly more out of focus one above).
As for the second Blue....Well, I should imagine that it was probably so incensed by the presence of its perceived adversary that it either simply failed to notice me or just didn't care.
Small Heath When I was a boy way, way, waaay back in the 1950s, it was possible to walk across a typical country meadow just about anywhere in the UK and disturb at least fifty thumbnail-sized Small Heaths, but these days, this once abundant butterfly is only common on a more localised basis and is now actually extinct in many areas altogether....a sad state of affairs brought about mostly by persistent, extensive and ever-increasing habitat degradation at the hands of our old friend man.
Giant Bistort ....Not exactly common in the wild.
A Classic English Meadow in Late Spring/Early Summer I've travelled the world (though never once as a tourist) from the North Pacific to the South Atlantic, from Japan to Argentina....from the sweeping plains of the Serengeti to the unforgiving wilderness expanses of the Canadian Yukon....from the epic mountainous grandeur of Northern Scandinavia to the bleached, bone-white beaches of the Ivory Coast, but not one bit of it has ever truly seduced me like the sensuous, sun-warmed smile of an English summer meadow.
Sadly, there are fewer than a third of them left today compared with when I was a boy, so what will remain for my grandchildren and their children in two or three decades time?
Leah's Ceanothus....Bee and Butterfly Magnet I was eventually forced to relocate the little Ceanothus bush that we planted as a memorial to my previous dog, Leah, to another, sunnier part of the garden where, I'm pleased to say, it seems to be doing much better.
Mozzie I'm 75% sure that this specimen is a Culex pipiens (female of course) and I noticed it only after it had settled on my arm and begun sucking my blood while I was sitting in the shade alongside our little wildlife pond at the top of the garden yesterday (22nd May). Oddly, authoritative books on Mosquitoes tend to be universally adamant that this particular species rarely bites humans!
One from the Garden
Textures I....Resembling a Forest Viewed from an Aircraft
Number 10,000 This is the 10,000th tree that I've photographed as part of my job during the past twenty years, many of them several times each season from a multitude of angles. Digital photography has made it all much easier these days however and a lot less expensive. On the other hand, I now do barely 1% of the pencil and water colour sketches of details of the same trees that I used to churn out as a matter of course.
Shown Above and Below....April-Flowering North Devonshire Summer Snowflake There was a time, not so very long ago, when experts were keen to maintain that the pretty little Summer Snowflake was (more or less) confined to the South-East corner of England....However, I've been stumbling across it more and more often in recent years growing in various types of wet meadowland as well as along all manner of freshwater margins right across the South and South-West of the country.
Easily mistaken for our more familiar (but much shorter) Winter Snowdrop, Summer Snowflake has at least always managed to delay its first appearance until late April or early May, thus ensuring that there's very little chance of the two species actually managing to flower alongside each other. However, I've been increasingly mindful over the past few years of just how much narrower that gap is getting.
Working In the Valleys
Working In the Forests
Two Vanguard Spring Maidens of 2010.... Photographed on the 16th and 17th of April respectively, Crowtoes (above) and a truly wild (and therefore, very rare) white Snake's-Head Fritillary (below).
Hedgerow Spring Blossom
Spring Blossom in the Bushes and Trees
Buckshot's Release I've already mentioned Buckshot on the co.uk site and about how I rescued and treated her after she was blown out of the sky by some moron with a shotgun and left for dead. Nineteen pellets I took out of her that day and was also forced to operate on her left wing which was so badly damaged I had to repair it using tiny plastic fisherman's float sleeves to splint the worst of the fractures (an old trick I learned while working in the bird hospital at the zoo back in the 1960s) and tiny dabs of super-glue to repair the torn flesh. That was weeks and weeks ago and I didn't think she'd make it, but she's a fighter and she pulled through quite remarkably. Plus, her Spring moult has left her looking almost as good as new....except of course, she'll never be able to fly properly again.
The thing is though, I'd grown quite fond of her really, especially from about the time she'd recovered enough to wander round the garden, helping herself to the copious amounts of food I put out for all the other birds. On the other hand, I also had to try very hard to ensure that she didn't become too tame in readiness for her eventual release back into the wild which, I'm a little sad to say, was today (11th April, 2010), almost a month later than I'd first predicted.
Anyway, I drove her out to what I thought would be a good place and, with Tess looking on, I gave her a quick checkover, wished her luck and placed her on the ground in a small wooded area at the edge of a field where about a dozen other Pheasants were busy feeding.
There then followed an odd moment or two when, instead of immediately running off into the undergrowth as I had expected, she simply stood there with her head half turned towards me as if to say "What's all this about then? Can we go home now?" and, to be quite honest, I very nearly picked her up again and nearly, but not quite took her home and back to the garden....a place of relative safety where she'd have been able to live out the rest of her days in comparative peace....but I didn't pick her up in the end because she's a wild animal after all and, if it's at all possible, then "in the wild" is where she needs to be. Besides, I reckon she'll be ok as I know, for example, that she'll at least be able to get high enough off the ground in order to reach the lower branches of suitable trees where she'll hopefully be able to roost out of the reach of most night-time predators.
Oh well, she's free now, but here, in case you're interested, are a few of the photographs I took to mark the occasion....
A stunningly beautiful creature.
All wrapped up for the journey in one of my old Balaclavas.
Watching and waiting.
Buckshot trusted me enough to take one last look at the wing that had been so badly damaged.
....She simply stood there with her head half turned towards me as if to say "What's all this about then? Can we go home now?"
A Country Mile or Two As a sixty year-old sack of jelly with added wobbly bits, I think it's fair to say that I'm not quite the slim, sleek, muscular young thing I once was....Yet both my job as a wildlife ranger and the efforts required of me as a SAR dog handler demand that I maintain at least some semblance of physical fitness. So, for quite a while now, Tess and I have been "running" a country mile or two each week via a torturous (to me) local equine cross-country course.
O'er hill, 'cross field and through wooded valley we go, with Tess at full gallop and me at barely more than walking pace, dressed in my working gear complete with 75 litre bergen crammed full of kit, staggering along as best I can.....and, while Tess just flies across each fiendish, cruel and punishing jump, the ones designed to test the mettle of even the most determined horse and rider, I approach the same, but pause to sit and rest (or be sick) a while each time before assailing them as best I can.
Discovery When she finds something interesting, Tess completely freezes and holds her position until I'm able to get to her and investigate what she's found. I guess she's a bit like a Pointer in this respect, but it's a very useful way for us to go about our daily routines.
This particular "discovery" was a very exciting one for me because it turned out to be yet another holt (see photo below) almost certainly belonging to the big dog Otter whose habits and haunts I've been plotting and recording for many weeks now. In fact, I was 90% certain at the time that he was in residence, simply because it was very early in the morning and Otter spraint on a boulder just a few metres from the entrance hole was entirely fresh, being no more than a couple of hours old.
As I've said elsewhere however, I'm not the only person alive to the fact that an Otter is active in this area and, unfortunately, the animal has managed to acquire (judging by their footprints) at least two human enemies who appear to want nothing more than to kill it any way they can!
It's important therefore, that I continue to learn as much about this particular male as I can (not to mention the much smaller, possibly female Otter whose tracks Tess has also discovered in the area) so that I can best ensure their continued survival....and I can assure you, I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to do so.
There is absolutely no doubt that beautiful Lutra lutra is ever so slowly making a comeback in a very precious few of our wilder places, but sadly, Man still remains this fabulous and ultra-secretive animal's most deadly enemy....despite the complete, but only relatively recent ban on Otter hunting throughout the UK and the steady increase in more "educated" farming practises.
Well, I've spent the past few months embedding both my own and Tess's scent in this area in ways that you'd rather not know about and, by now, the smell of us will be entirely familiar to any Otters living there. That still doesn't make us acceptable to the animals concerned however and we must continue to proceed with the utmost stealth and caution lest we ourselves undo all that we've managed to achieve so far.
Otters are incredibly aware and nervous creatures by their very nature, easily spooked and scared away. They also have amongst the best hearing and scenting capabilities of any animal species on the planet....a fact which constantly tests my own wilderness abilities to the nth degree and more so than with any other wildlife-orientated task I've previously been associated.
After all, Tess and I are there to protect them, not to frighten them away, so we'll continue to seek out and destroy all manner of traps set for them as well as locate and remove all poisons laid for them. I shall also be employing all the technology currently at my disposal plus some even more state-of-the-art stuff that both the Boss and Tess's sponsors have kindly seen fit to provide me with....The "sponsors", by the way, not being the kind of b*stards you ever want to upset, believe me!
The bottom line is that I am desperate for these Otters to stay and survive long enough to (hopefully) breed in this area. I think it's also fair to say that I've become somewhat obsessed with helping them to do so and I know the Boss is so concerned about me at the moment that he wants me to start having regular therapy sessions again. It's Belfast you see, stuff like that never truly goes away and tends to rear it's ugly head through all manner of unexpected things!
Friends I don't know what it is about Tess and horses, but she never fails to get on with them. At the very sight of her, they'll come galloping across the fields to greet her while she gets all beside herself with her tail wagging so hard sometimes, I fear it's going to fall off! Yet the amazing thing is how she never seems to be even remotely intimidated by their size and will allow them to sniff at her and nudge her with their noses. Nor do they ever seem particularly alarmed when she occasionally barks at them as if to say "Come on, let's play together!" In fact, it's very clear in the way they all behave towards each other that they would love nothing more than be allowed to run together across the open spaces, but since it's almost certain that the owners of the horses would be less than pleased if they did just that and there's also the possibility that Tess could be injured, albeit accidentally, I either make sure that they remain separated by a fence or that Tess is kept on her lead. Mind you, it must be a comical sight sometimes when there's me with Tess on her lead plus three or four very attentive horses all walking together across some field or other miles from anywhere.
Here Be Dragons
The Face Says it All....Fed Up with Being Indoors All Day! I combine my paperwork days with Tess's enforced rest days, but she absolutely hates having to stay in all day (perhaps even more than I do). She has one or two leisurely strolls across the fields over the road of course, but it's certainly not the same, from her point of view, as going out to "work".
Finally, Some Colour! Just a solitary splash of bright yellow and red in a very unlikely out of the way place and almost certainly planted there by some local from a nearby village, but it was the unexpectedness of it that stopped me in my tracks and resulted in me taking the photograph.
Sunshine, a Clear Blue Sky and a Hint of Spring (20th February)
Out with the Old....
....In with the New (13th February)
Snow-laden Clouds Menace in the West as a Small Flurry is Blown in from the North
Malverns View on the Worcestershire/Herefordshire Border "The trees are singing my music....or I have sung theirs"
"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"....Thomas Jefferson I took this photograph shortly after a visit to my garden from the local Sparrowhawk. She was unsuccessful this time around, but needless to say, all the birds remained in a high state of nervousness for some time afterwards.
A Spiteful North-Easterly Suddenly Blows Powdery Snow Across the Road Ahead Like Spindrift Sliced from the Crest of a Cruel Atlantic Breaker
Freeze, freeze thou bitter sky That dost not bite so nigh As benefits forgot Though thou the waters warp Thy sting is not so sharp As friends remember'd not
Four and Twenty Blackbirds.... Well, not quite that many shown here, but I've uploaded the above picture (taken from one of my upstairs windows on 9th January) as a pictorial riposte to the rather rude comment made by one Mr G, a local bird "expert", self-proclaimed twitcher and frequent critic of my websites. Mr G has been keen to point out that, contrary to my recent claim (see below) that as many as a dozen Blackbirds have been visiting my garden at one time to take advantage of the food I put out for them, large gatherings of such a territorially obsessed species simply will not occur, particularly during the winter months when competition between individuals for increasingly scarce food sources grows ever more acute.
Basically, Mr G has been accusing me of fabricating the entire Blackbird story!
Ok, think what you like Mr G, after all, you're the expert. However, I would appreciate your informed opinion with regard to the above picture, which clearly shows at least FIFTEEN blackbirds all feeding in my garden at the same time....and fairly harmoniously to boot, not to mention the incredibly tame and frost-bitten "Merle", that's what I call her now (older country folk will probably understand why) who was out of sight on the patio below at that precise moment and partaking of the food I put out exclusively for her. Incidentally, you may have to look hard to see the Blackbird on the bird-table attached to the fence (top centre), the one in the Cotoneaster (top right corner), the one on the wire tray between the bird-feeders and the one sticking its head out from behind the little snow-covered Honeysuckle (centre-right of the bird-feeder pole).
Oh....and I wonder what you Mr G, would have made of my sighting just over a week ago, of a pair of Wood Warblers....Yes Mr G, Wood Warblers! You see, the thing is because I'm out and about doing ranger stuff and using my eyes and ears all day every day and I'm not just some twitcher hurtling about the countryside at the weekend, I do actually get to see and hear (and occasionally photograph) an extraordinary amount of unusual stuff, such as the Pine Martin I found dead on the side of the Cirencester/Stroud road a few weeks ago or the travelling (migrating?) pack of at least fifty Stoats that I encountered late one evening last Autumn (a phenomenon I might add that I haven't seen since I was a boy) and members of which showed absolutely no fear of me whatsoever! Then there's all that other strange stuff I've witnessed of late, from cricket ball-sized knots of Earthworms to huge carpets of wing-flickering Painted Lady Butterflies or the extraordinarily deviant behaviour of certain Rooks to a Fox travelling with a used (I assume) condom in its mouth!
The fact is, I see these things Mr G because I'm not a d*ckhead with a pair of Swarovski binoculars and a pencil tearing about all over the place trying desperately to catch a glimpse of something rare or unusual while totally ignoring everything else. Not to mention having scant regard for the habitats invaded or the disturbance caused to the wildlife indigenous to them....and I'm not even going to attempt to describe the little "incident" I witnessed recently involving two twitchers a lot like yourself Mr G, who were prepared to go to any lengths just to catch sight of a Black-Throated Diver currently inhabiting a water park not too far from where I live, but who failed to have any consideration whatsoever for how sensitive the creature might be to the presence of clod-hopping humans or for the fact that local ("proper") naturalists are desperately trying to encourage birds like them or indeed others, such as the ultra-nervous Smew, to become permanent visitors to the park! Then there was the extremely well-known and highly regarded wildlife photographer recently who threw all his toys out of his pram in one go when I caught him (and stopped him) trying to get up really close and personal to something very special right here in the Cotswolds, but which I've made it my life's work to protect against all unwarranted intrusion with every fibre of my being!
You may call yourself a birder Mr G or (more accurately) a twitcher, but you're no naturalist. You don't even begin to empathise with the Natural World, at least not in the true sense of the word. You know all the facts I admit and you're a veritable encyclopaedia of information, but you "feel" very little. The bottom line is that you're scarcely more than a ticker of boxes, a maker of lists and an obsessive, over-competitive, self-centred invader of woodland, moorland and farmland alike! I despise most of your kind and without you my job would be a much easier one and far less abrasive!
I put "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" as a caption title above for obvious reasons, but didn't realize how close to the truth it would eventually be when we counted no less than five and twenty Blackbirds in our back garden all at once this morning (10th January) with two more at the front! If "DT" was still around, he'd be having a complete nervous breakdown....and with no Sam to help him out any more either. The two Blackbirds who feed almost exclusively at the front of the house by the way, are regular visitors, "Two-Tone" and "Blackbeak", the latter so named because he has a totally black beak rather than the orange coloured one more usually associated with male Blackbirds.
"Merle"....Still with us (as of the 9th January), but continuing to suffer from frostbite in her now quite swollen right leg.
Above and Below....Driven by Hunger and Pain This hen Blackbird remained my constant companion this afternoon (7th January) as I cleared snow from an area at the back of the house in order to stack the large load of pine logs that the forestry boys had delivered earlier. She also stayed with me while I chopped quite a few of them into kindling.
She must have been very hungry because she stayed extremely close throughout the entire operation which shook free a goodly number of insects from their places of winter hibernation, usually under the log bark and she was quick to swoop down and snatch them up as soon as she spotted them.
There have been about a dozen Blackbirds in my garden today, all attracted by the copious amounts of food I've scattered all over the place and I must say they've behaved themselves quite well considering the belligerent and territorial nature of the species as a whole. However, They have all been less than kindly disposed towards this hen bird, chasing her away from the food at every opportunity, probably because she's suffering from a severe case of frostbite in her right foot. In fact, she's barely able to put it to the ground and so I made certain that she had plenty to eat as the afternoon wore on.
Sadly, she's not likely to survive too many more severe night-time frosts and even if she does, she still has to avoid infection and will probably lose the leg anyway.
A small area of lawn cleared of snow and liberally sprinkled with bird food will be much appreciated by scores of birds in your neighbourhood, while it's also important to clear any bird-feeders and bird-tables that may have become clogged or covered with snow overnight. It's also important that birds have access to unfrozen water and it will be very helpful for them if you can find the time to put out a small bowl of "slightly" warm water every now and again. The picture above shows a hungry Dunnock arriving to feed even before I'd managed to put the lid back on the bird-food tub! Then, within half an hour, dozens of birds representing eighteen different species had visited my gardens front and back!
Please Remember to Feed the Birds Food is almost impossible to find beneath the snow for many species of birds at the moment and they will be in desperate need of our help. If you don't have any proprietary bird food, then almost any old leftover scraps thrown onto a small area cleared of snow will do, from stale bread to old frying-pan fat, from crumbled up biscuits to finely chopped fruit peelings or whatever you can spare. I put out a bowl of crumbled Weetabix mixed with cooking fat this morning for example and the Blackbirds and Thrushes are currently lapping it up!
This isn't exactly the winter of 1962/1963 when my Uncle Sid famously drove his Ford car along the frozen River Avon at Tewkesbury (with me in the passenger seat) or the winter of 1947 when twenty foot snow drifts were recorded in the Cotswolds and supplies had to be air-lifted in by helicopter to local residents and farmers trapped in their homes for up to two weeks and more than ten million birds nationwide were thought to have perished, but it is severe enough to cause great concern, especially for many of the smaller species who lose body heat very quickly and therefore need to eat almost constantly just to give themselves half a chance of surviving the bitterly cold nights.
First Upload of 2010
(Above and Below) A Day and a Night in the High Woods "It was so cold, I saw a politician with his hands in his own pockets while a flasher just stood there with his clothes on describing himself!" (Bob Hope I think). There are a few more pictures on the "Blue and Purple" page.
Above....Sunset on the 12th December and, Below....the Dawn of the Same Day I've uploaded photographs of two successive dawns taken on the 10th and 11th of December on the "Home" page of www.wildliferanger.co.uk and now, here are two photographs depicting both the sunrise and sunset of the 12th December.
As far as this dawn was concerned however, the sun did make a valiant effort to vanquish many a dark and ominous cloud of ill intent, but was eventually overwhelmed by a second wave of colder and more sombre, all-pervading greyness that chilled many of those forced to venture out of doors, right through to the bone and which then continued to persist until around mid-afternoon when, finally, the sun was able to regain the upper hand and set about its self-appointed task of re-injecting colour (not to mention a degree or two of warmth) into an otherwise stark and barren landscape.
Another Early December Sunset Shot
Which? What? Who? The thing is, a "Parasol" is edible and tasty, while the very similar-looking "False Parasol" is very poisonous. On the other hand, the "Shaggy Parasol" is edible for most, but toxic to some....Or is this an "Inkcap" of some kind, some types of which are inedible, while others are edible, but only when picked very young. Oh, and don't forget the confusing Dapperlings which tend to range from inedible right through to highly poisonous!
So, what's this one then I hear you say? Well, I figured that it was probably one of the above, but I wasn't sure and, as it was one of two (the other being much flatter in appearance and similar in its general characteristics to a couple of the very poisonous larger Dapperlings), growing on a grass verge close to a children's playground in Oxfordshire, I didn't take any chances and removed them both simply because I've seen little kids put all kinds of things in their mouths whether they looked good to eat or not. Crikey, I once fed a big, fat juicy earthworm to my cousin Robert when I was about six years old just because he was crying in his pram and I thought he was hungry!
Forest Road I've added this picture here in connection with my super-lorry cartoon I've put in my diary on the "Blue and Purple" page this week (2nd December). Why? Well it was about two years ago that a very large Polish-registered articulated lorry ended up trying to force its way along this very road simply because its stupid SatNav kept telling the even stupider driver he was going the right way....and where was he trying to get to? The M5 motorway!
SatNav....Yet another of Man's great inventions that I shall never, ever allow to be switched on in any vehicle I'm driving, but then, I've been cursed with the ability to read a map!
Inanimate I was asked yesterday by an old acquaintance if I ever take photographs of anything other than boring wildlife stuff....Well, the answer is yes....I've taken hundreds of pictures of all kinds of other boring stuff as well, including buildings, street scenes and, of course, people. In fact, I have enough such images to fill yet another boring website, but don't worry, I'm not about to inflict that on you.
However, I do have a particular fondness for taking photos of old junk simply because there's often something very organic and sad about the way things rust away. As in the case of the old Victorian steam boiler (above) that I happened across the other day....Betrayed and discarded, it's exact function lost in the mists of time. No longer useful to anyone, even as scrap, its final destiny being to simply rust away slowly in some dark forsaken corner, forgotten and forlorn. Perhaps such things are closer to the human condition than we care to think about and that's what I'm really picking up on. On the other hand, maybe it's just an old boiler.
Above and Below....The River Severn Begins to Flood
This thing all things devours Birds, beasts, trees, flowers Gnaws iron, bites steel Grinds hard stones to meal Slays king, ruins towns And beats high mountains down
(From JRR Tolkien's "The Hobbit")
Bivouack November Sunset It's a very long walk from just above Frampton all the way to Upton-upon-Severn via Gloucester along the banks of the River Severn and so Tess and I were forced to bivouack overnight on higher ground overlooking Tewkesbury (close to where I used to camp quite often as a boy along with my dog, Slipper, back in the 1950s, though we didn't have the luxury of things like bivi-bags or even a tent in those days)!
Anyway, it rained most of the way of course, while the river rose more than three feet during the time that it took us. Below is an early morning shot of the rapidly swelling river taken from the Myth Bridge....once called the "Halfpenny-Pay Bridge" (pronounced "Hapeney") because that's how much toll you paid to cross it. Meanwhile, the Mythe Water-Works is shown in silhouette to the left and it was when the buildings here were badly flooded in the summer of 2007 that hundreds of homes for miles around suddenly found themselves without water for weeks afterwards and when hundreds of emergency roadside water tanks had to be provided across several counties as the only source of fresh, clean water for hundreds of thousands of people .
The Swollen River Severn at Tewkesbury
Kynance Cove Just one small part of the lethally rugged, but utterly beautiful coastline of Cornwall's Lizard Peninsular. Tess and I have just returned from spending eight very busy and eventful days there in the middle of October, working from my motor-home and covering, on foot, more than 140 miles of coastal and inland footpaths, assorted track-ways, bridle-ways and country lanes from Mullion Cove right round to Coverack plus as much ground right across the peninsular as possible in the time available. Now we're back, I'll be loading some of the pictures I took along the way as and when I can fit it in with the other stuff I seem to be doing more and more of these days.
Nature's Canvas ....or "A Branch" for those perhaps less inclined towards pretentious cr*p!
Pretty in Pink No, not a member of the House of Lords, but a simple ornamental cabbage.
Still Smiling....Still Improving Continuing to work on the assumption that plenty of long walks in the countryside, no matter what the weather's like and a giant spoonful of Manuka honey at least twice a day will make all the difference in my wife's on-going battle against the multiple myeloma cancer that she was diagnosed as having in August, 2008 (not to mention the spectre of the dire prognosis that confronted her), I took her for yet another timeless walk in the forest today (1st October, 2009)....partly to show her how adept Tess has become in tracking and finding Deer, but also to immerse her in the truly spectacular autumn colours of many of the trees that surrounded us.
More than year has now passed since that first terrifying diagnosis was made, during which time the difficulties we faced together as a family were quite overwhelming. However, I'm delighted to be able to say that my wife has continued to go from strength to strength, particularly over the past few months and constantly demonstrates a level of determination, positive attitude and sheer bloody-mindedness that I wouldn't have though possible in a normal human being!
Needless to say, she loves our walks together and never complains when I know she's feeling the strain (remember, no less than eight of her vertebrae had cracked and deteriorated to such an extent as a result of an osteo-porotic condition associated with the myelomas that she had to have them either injected with a special cement or supported by steel rods screwed into them). In fact, she has been totally adamant throughout the entire awful experience that nothing would slow her down and, as far as she was concerned, a little thing like having her back effectively broken in eight places wasn't about to change anything! Plus, let's not forget Tess in all of this....She's been been a tremendous boost to everyone's morale in ways that only special animals like her can be.
Anyway, not surprisingly, I took a few photos as we walked the sun-dappled wooded trails today, including the following seven examples....
Just Before Sunset Looking Across the Vast Expanses of the River Severn's Magnificent Tidal Estuary. I took this shot in very late September, 2009 not far from the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's world-famous Slimbridge Wildfowl Conservation Centre. It's funny to think however, that within a few short weeks, this entire area will once again be home to tens of thousands of returning migratory wild Swans and Geese.
Meanwhile, I was there (as I am several times every year from early spring through to late autumn), as part of our continuing effort to monitor as many species of Bat as we can in as wide a variety of habitats as possible right across the UK, but by the time the Geese will have started to arrive, most species of Bat in this particular area will already have begun to hibernate for the winter, usually only reawakening after the last of the Geese have returned to their breeding grounds in the far north.
Tick....Tick....Tick Ticks have been particularly thick on the ground this year and I've been protecting Tess with regular, controlled doses of fiprinil. However, nothing is perfect and I discovered the above, totally engorged little blighter feeding like a thing possessed on her left flank. I didn't have a Tick remover so I used an old Sloeberry method that my gamekeeper uncle showed me when I was a boy. The trick is to make certain that you remove the Tick without leaving its mouthparts behind otherwise infection can easily set in with potentially nasty results. Luckily, I managed to remove this one complete....still alive and kicking. The photo below shows the Tick's underside, including its jaws and all eight of its legs....Yummy!
Just Me, Tess and a Few Sheep Well into September now and Tess and I are walking miles and miles each day, trying to get out to a few of the less frequently trodden places.
Worker Bee on Perennial Sow-Thistle It was only recently that I was demonstrating to a small group of ladies and gentlemen of a generally ghillie-suited persuasion how the leaves of Perennial Sow-Thistle will make a tasty addition to the main course of their 24-hour ration packs. I must say however, that it's nearly always the girls who are least resistant to trying the many and varied things I point out to them as being edible. You see, the trouble with a lot of the men tends to be that they arrive with decidedly pre-conceived, gung-ho notions of how it should all be done, while the girls generally sit there with their eyes and ears open, taking it all on board and their mouths firmly shut, except when asking intelligent questions.
It's the same with the photography stuff as well, in as much as I don't think I've ever found myself trying to teach a mixed bag of camo-besmeared reprobates about the trials and tribulations of outdoor photography during protracted exposure to the worst of the elements or the whys and wherefores of long-term survival strategies without the men of the group ending up telling me how THEY think it should be done based mostly on information gleaned from their beloved DVD copies of "Bear Grylls Does it His Way and Gets Everybody Killed"!
Basically, what I think I'm trying to say is, if there's a job to be done that involves using total stealth to the point of invisibility and the absolute non-use of firearms throughout, then give me the women nearly every time!
Painted Lady I took this photo quite late in the day in early August, 2009. The light was fading fast, but this individual was still very active over one particular stretch of ground....something I've noted many times to be common amongst Painted Lady Butterflies and also Red Admirals. The earliest mention of such late in the day behaviour I can find appears in my copy of Richard South's "Butterflies of the British Isles", printed in 1906 where he says....
"A curious habit of the Painted Lady and also of the Red Admiral, is that of continuing on the wing long after other kinds of Butterfly have retired to their resting-places for the night. Both have been seen flying about at dusk and have been recorded as attracted by light on more than one occasion. It has been noted that these butterflies usually occur singly and seem to become attached to some short stretch of ground over which they career to and fro with almost mechanical regularity. They may be struck at with the net again and again, but do not desert their beat. Even if caught and released again, they appear to be undismayed and resume their interrupted patrol at once or very shortly afterwards. The later butterflies also are not afraid of the net and will return repeatedly to some favourite perch after being stuck at and missed".
You see, that's what I like about all those dusty old natural history books (of which I've owned many and varied since I was a boy)....they're absolutely full to the brim of infinitely useful and fascinating (to me at least) first-hand snippets of information that very few (if any) of the so-called "modern" text books possess. In fact, I'd go as far to say that the vast majority of those old tomes seem to possess something akin to a "personality" all their own and are nearly always written in the most immaculate of English prose styles.
Anyway, I find it very useful (from a professional perspective) to be able to compare and contrast the behaviour and life habits of as many species of modern-day mammals, birds, insects, plants, etc as possible with those of their counterparts of perhaps a hundred or more years ago....and besides, the often hard-won, dependable nuggets of information they invariably contain tend to be virtually impossible to obtain elsewhere.
Red Bartsia A common, much-ignored plant of roadside verges and overgrown grassy banks, Red Bartsia doesn't really have an awful lot going for it....The flowers barely compete with those of the assorted Vetches, Knapweeds and Scabiouseseses that often surround it and its scent is virtually non-existent. It's even semi-parasitic, much like its relatives the Lousewort and the two Rattles, living off the roots of any available grasses from which it gradually extracts water and minerals. So, apart from the fact that it was once thought to be a cure for toothache, Red Bartsia is generally considered to be a bit of a non-starter....except by me because I quite like this plucky little trier who, although continually overwhelmed by other, more flashy wildflowers, learned long ago to adapt and overcome and, ultimately, to exploit its own little niche in both the rural and semi-urban landscape.
A 24 Punctata Larva-to-Adult Metamorphosis on Common Nettle ....although I'm only 80% certain that's what it is, it's an extraordinary sight nonetheless, almost like encountering something from another planet. In fact, I was lucky to even spot it all things considered and so continued to watch the fascinating process until it was completed just over half an hour later.
Small Tortoiseshell My year in Kobe (see "Slices", the chapter entitled "Miko") provided me with several wonderful opportunities during my spare time to train under a number of remarkable and iconic instructors....
Sensei Nishiyama knelt at the front of the class. The session had been one of the toughest I'd ever endured and was to finish, as usual, with one of his famously enigmatic traditional Japanese folk tales intended, he maintained, to relate to the training itself....
"An old man named Takahama was close to death. A nephew was sitting at his bedside when a brightly coloured butterfly suddenly flew into the room. It hovered for a while and perched near Takahama's head. When his nephew tried to brush it away, the butterfly danced around in a strange fashion and then flew down the corridor. Believing this to be no ordinary behaviour for an insect, the nephew followed after the butterfly until it eventually reached a grave and disappeared from sight. Examining the gravestone, the nephew discovered the name "Akiko", but upon returning to his uncle's bedside, he found that Takahama had died.
When the boy told his mother about the butterfly, she wasn't in the least bit surprised. Akiko, she explained, was a young girl who Takahama loved deeply and planned to marry in his youth, but sadly, she died of consumption at the age of eighteen. For the rest of his life,Takahama had remained faithful to her memory and visited her grave every day. The nephew then realized that the soul of Akiko had come in the form of a butterfly to accompany the spirit of his uncle to the next world."
....and the moral of the story in relation to the training session? To this day, I haven't got a clue!
Devon Ambush The patience of a predatory and remarkably colour-changing Misumena vatia was finally rewarded when what looked like a very scarce, but normally Dandelion-preferring Andrena pilipes landed right next to her on the flower umbel of a Hemlock Water Dropwort. I watched her pounce, inject her venom and then somehow manage to cling on for all she was worth to the desperately struggling Bee until it became totally paralysed. Meanwhile, I shall be adding more photographs of my early June South Devon exploits on the "My Office" page of the co.uk site over the next few days.
Club-Tailed Dragonfly I was delighted to stumble upon this really quite rare (in Britain) Club-Tailed Dragonfly (28th May). It was on a bank of the slow-moving River Severn just a few miles south of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire and pretty much on the very edge of its northern range. My guess is that it was newly emerged as an adult from its larval stage where it has spent the last couple of years living in the mud of the river-bed. Note how wide apart the eyes are set, unlike other species of Dragonfly whose eyes tend to touch. I saw five of these Gomphids last year all near the River Thames in Oxfordshire and three the year before that in the same area, though none of them close enough to photograph. Apparently, Mark (in the Southern Counties) and Dave (in South Wales) have both recorded seeing more of them in recent years as well, so it's possible I suppose, that its numbers are slowly on the increase and gradually spreading northwards, probably due to subtle changes in the UK's climate.
Tess Watches Long-Term Garden Residents Thelma and Louise Through the Window Still devoted to each other after more than five years and possibly the most photographed Collared Doves in the world, I've noticed recently that both Thelma and Louise are finally beginning to look as though they're getting on a bit in years and that maybe the odd botox injection or two might not go entirely amiss.
Tiny Hairy Pea Spider Ok, so that's not its real name, but as this tiny, though very distinctive relative of the orb-web spider brigade has never had a common name and Arianella cucurbitina was always way too much of a mouthful to bother with, I decided to give it a common name of my own when I was about nine years old and "Hairy Pea Spider" seemed strangely appropriate somehow. I took the above shot of this six-eyed beauty at Westonbirt Arboretum on 21st May after my eagle-eyed Daughter had spotted it on the underside of a tree leaf. Note the trip-wire web system, as this species is more usually inclined to weaving its own, albeit slightly eccentric web structure about a metre or two off the ground on any suitable bush or small tree. Meanwhile, from the familiar to the completely unknown....I took the photograph below on the same day, but I have no idea what species of Beetle it is. It's completely new to me. It was sunning itself on the end of a cut log in the middle of Silk Wood (behaviour characteristic of any species of Tiger Beetle) and was at least 1.5 cm long! Nor did it take any real notice of me as I manoeuvred my camera to within a centimetre of it to get the picture! See ID update comment below....
Tiger Beetle? Note....Nobby has been quick to point out to me that this is actually a species of Longhorn Beetle called Rhagium mordax and has no particular colloquial or common name. He says they are fairly widespread and are usually to be found in well established woodlands with lots of Oak trees. Perhaps then, "Oak Beetle" might be a suitable common name.
Wing Detail of a Green-Veined White
Mating Dung Flies I had to get down on my hands and knees in the middle of a field full of cattle and put my face just inches from a cow pat that was so fresh it was steaming in order to get this shot. Three seconds later, Tess managed to tread in it and that was the end of that!
Magnolia The spectacular Magnolia is well on its way to becoming yet another naturalised species in the British Isles. This one was growing in a wood in Somerset. A truly ancient genus, the magnolia managed to evolve even before the advent of Bees. In fact, the flowers developed in such a way so as to encourage pollination by Beetles. As a result of this, the carpels of Magnolia flowers are particularly tough in order to avoid damage by some of the larger Beetle species.
Cherry Laurel Along with the Rhododendron, the Cherry Laurel must surely be the most common of all introduced evergreen species in the UK. It's nearly always to be found in woodlands associated with the hunting of game-birds where it tolerates shade quite easily and where its large, evergreen leaves keep the ground significantly warmer throughout the winter much to the benefit of the likes of Pheasant and Partridge. As a woodland shrub or bush, it rarely flowers well, but I came across this heavily flowering individual growing quite happily well out in the open and in the sunshine. Later in the year, its berries will prove a great favourite with many bird species. We had a neighbour back when I was a boy in the 1950s who was an unmarried Ukrainian DP. He had two main passions....Attempting to learn English by listening to the radio and collecting Butterflies. He was a very knowledgeable man with regard to his beloved Butterflies and always delighted in showing me his collection simply because I took a genuine interest. One day, he demonstrated how he prepared and mounted the specimens he captured using Laurel leaves. He first crushed a couple of leaves outside and placed them in a jam jar. The smell of bitter almonds filled the air due to the fact that Laurel leaves contain prussic acid (cyanide). He then dropped a live Butterfly into the jar containing the crushed leaves, replaced the lid and waited a few minutes for the insect to die. This method of killing the Butterfly ensured that the creature remained undamaged as well as limp enough for it to be pinned out. A few years back, I used several handfuls of crushed Laurel leaves to "encourage" Wasps to vacate the garden shed belonging to a different neighbour and where the Wasps had managed to establish a sizeable nest. As for my Ukrainian neighbour, he eventually learnt to speak English quite well, but not just by listening to general interest radio broadcasts such as Billy Cotton's Band Show and Woman's Hour, but by recording all of his favourite radio comedy shows of the time as well while using nothing more than a microphone taped to the back of a dining room chair and an old-fashioned spool-to-spool tape-recorder. Sadly, he died in the 1970s but I was absolutely gob-smacked to receive a letter from his solicitor a few weeks later informing me that he had left me his entire collection of Butterflies plus scores of his spooled tapes, each with many recordings of such comedy shows as Hancock's Half-Hour, The Navy Lark, Round the Horne, The Goons and several others! I never actually got around to listening to any of them at the time because my life changed quite dramatically all of a sudden back then and besides, I've never owned a spool-to-spool tape recorder. Anyway, I don't suppose for a minute that the quality will be very good, especially with all the background noises and radio interference and the like, but I have always looked after them at a separate location and kept them in air-tight boxes in a damp-free environment.
Sam (1992 - 2009) There's a write-up about Sam in the diary section (3rd March) on the "Blue and Purple" page.
Derelict Unoccupied for many, many years....was there something very unpleasant and rather sinister that happened inside this old house long ago and would it help to explain some of the strange things that seem to happen there from time to time? As for where it is....I'd better not say!
Mash Marigold I've gone on about Marsh Marigolds elsewhere on my websites, so I wont try to bore you any further....except to say that this bright, sunny-flowered plant is one of the very first to brighten our water margins during the early onset of Spring and is a familiar (though very poisonous) inhabitant of many a village pond. This one however, was growing beside an old disused canal in Gloucestershire.
Snake's-Head Fritillary The incredibly rare wet-grassland-loving Snake’s-Head Fritillary was a common enough species in the South of England up until about fifty or sixty years ago, when indiscriminate drainage policies, more extensive ploughing and the massively increased use of bio-indifferent pesticides and fertilisers triggered a catastrophic decline in suitable habitats.
Sadly, the Fritillary has now become so rare in the wild, that it’s only to be found in a handful of carefully protected sites, one of which is just a few miles up the road from where I live.
Many other formerly common wet (or even dry) meadowland species have also suffered a similar fate, including the now rare Spiked Speedwell, Meadow Saffron, Corncockle, Pheasant’s-Eye, Field Cow-Wheat and the prehistorically iconic Woad, all of which I finally managed to photograph in 2008.
Meanwhile, Snake’s-Head Fritillary would normally be expected to flower towards the end of April or possibly into May, but I discovered this particular example, plus around forty others like it, on 17th March...the earliest I’ve ever known them to come into flower!
There is an even scarcer, pure white form as well that I've also managed to photograph. Interestingly, where they do occur, they tend to grow in colonies and be fairly prolific, but such places are fewer and further between these days.
There have been localised efforts to re-introduce Fritillaries to a number of wet-meadow habitats using specimens provided by the garden trade, but they differ (at least genetically) from the truly wild versions. The example shown above is of the latter type.
Not surprisingly, there are no similar species or relatives. It is a unique plant.
No Photoshop, the Sky and Water Really Were This Colour I took this the day before yesterday (4th March) as part of the “Lakeside and Reedbed” section of our independent Spring Emergence Monitoring Survey. A beautiful, sunny Spring-like day, it was in complete contrast however, to the gale-force winds and torrential rain that Tess and I experienced the day before at the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal adjacent to the Severn Estuary!
Early Morning Porridge My wife didn't have a very good night last night and I took this photograph first thing this morning (3rd March) as she ate her daily bowl of porridge with hot milk and an extra-large dollop of manuka honey.
She's smiling as always and we were actually talking about the number of friends and acquaintances she has who, because she smiles so much, tend to forget just how poorly she actually is and who are forever complaining to her about their own ailments, aches, pains, sniffles and colds.
She says it amuses her and that she's pleased they do really because it makes her feel more normal rather than having everyone treat her as though she's seriously ill or something!
Meanwhile, my son came home from university last night and will be here for the next few days. He'll be going with his Mum to see "Wiggy", the hospital wig specialist this morning for a possible "fitting" prior to the intensive chemo treatment she'll be having later in the month.
She thought that it probably wouldn't be a good idea for me to go with her because she doesn't trust my Forces sense of humour!
Catkin Macro Have you ever wondered what a catkin looks like up close? Of course you haven't, if only because, unlike me, you're probably normal! Well anyway, it usually takes the form of a longish, cylindrical cluster of flowers with either inconspicuous petals or no petals at all. Also known as aments, catkins are generally wind-pollinated. Meanwhile, although most people associate them with trees, catkins can also be found on some species of plants, including Nettles. Here then, endeth the first lesson, though I shall be asking questions later to sort out the slackers amongst you!
"It's not that I'm antisocial or anything....but sometimes I just feel a bit prickly"
The Lonely Berry
Stem Cell Harvest, Day Two....All Tubed Up!
After two full days of stem cell harvesting, barely 75% of the stem cells required had been successfully gathered by a special machine called a Blood Cell Separator (BCS) that passes all the blood through a highly sophisticated kind of centrifuge device in order to isolate what are called Peripheral Blood Progenitor Cells (PBPCs) prior to collecting them in a plastic bag for storage in a freezer, but due to my wife having a very low count of only 15 out of a possible hundred in blood test results on the first day and just 9 on day two, it was considered pointless for her to endure a third day of harvesting because even then, there would be a significant shortfall.
A minimum quantity of PBPCs is required she is due to go into hospital for about four weeks through February to have all her bone marrow zapped with an intensive course of chemotherapy and,in view of the fact that the count would certainly be even lower on the third day, it was decided to abandon this course of treatment with the intention of starting a second round in a couple of weeks time, though fortunately, the cells harvested so far can still be frozen and used.
The intensive chemo, when she eventually has it, will result in her becoming dangerously immune-deficient until the harvested stem cells are unfrozen and pumped back into her system. The reintroduced cells will then (hopefully) kick-start the production of more stem cells and reinvigorate her immune system. She will of course, need to be barrier-nursed for much of that period!
In addition to that, we were required to travel the 60 miles down to Bristol for the treatment to take place and, while I had to return home each evening, the plan was for my wife to stay with her aunt who lived near Clifton a few miles away from the clinic. However,after driving all the way home after the first treatment session, I got a phone call from my wife to say that she was at the BR1 hospital in the city centre because her aunt had collapsed and fallen badly and she’d been forced to administer emergency first-aid and call for an ambulance!
This is the kind of thing that my wife excels at. It’s what she does. However, after remaining at the hospital for several hours to be with her aunt while she was admitted, allocated a room and thoroughly examined (CT scan included), it was well after midnight before she finally managed to get a taxi all the way back to Clifton. She then rang several people, including me for a second time, to provide updates, before making herself a quick meal (she hadn’t had time to eat anything before-hand) and eventually got to bed just after 0200hrs!
Commitments at home prevented me from returning to Bristol before the following morning and so my wife had to get up earlier than planned and after just a few hours sleep, have a suitably milk-based breakfast (required by the treatment regime) and organize a taxi to get her back to the clinic for a second, very long day of harvesting! There then followed a nightmare few hours after I arrived as I did my best to cater to the needs of both my wife and her very poorly aunt who were situated in two separate hospitals about seven miles apart across a very large, very busy and very crowded city!
Anyway, we coped somehow, but we can both do without too many days like that! I would also add that it’s at such times that a sense of humour (albeit of the “gallows” kind) is absolutely essential.The slightly spooky thing is though, that in more than twenty years, this was only the second time that we had visited my wife’s aunt at her home. She’s also something of a recluse with very few friends and even fewer who choose to call on her. It’s possible therefore, that she could have collapsed and lay unconscious or unable to move on the floor of her hallway for days without anyone realizing and the fact that she couldn’t have had a better person on hand to deal with the situation, despite having endured a very rigorous day of their own, only adds to the spookiness of it!
Tess in Trouble....Again! She absolutely hates it when I'm cross with her....As for her "crime"this time....I'd spent fifteen minutes making the perfect cheese and tomato sandwich....loads of cheese.....extra-thick crusty bead....real butter....more cheese....those tiny sweet tommytatoes....and cheese....Perfection on a plate!
Then I turned my back for thirty seconds and....Well, you can guess the rest!
The thing is, I'd used the last of the bread and finished off the cheese to make that bleepin' sandwich and so I was forced to eat whatever was left in the cupboard...three Jacobs cream crackers gone soft and an old tomato I discovered at the back of the fridge which was sort of ok once I'd washed the green bits off!
Nobody cares about me though....Practically starving in my own home! Oh no, as long as the bleepin' puppy's ok thank-you very much....and what's worse is that I gave up chocolate in the New Year (again) and it'll be weeks before the shaking stops! I'm a growing lad and I need sustenance....Lots of sustenance!
The Long Winter Walk and the Short-Eared Owls Story in the "Tess" section on the "Blue and Purple" page.
The Day the Sky Caught Fire!
Cottage in the Wood
Hips or Haws? Anyway, I go on and on about the medicinal value of the many and varied types of Rose Hips to be found in the British countryside on these very websites, so I wont bother with all that stuff here, but here's one thing I don't think I've mentioned anywhere else, even in any textbooks...
Some species of animals have difficulty absorbing much-needed Vitamin C into their systems from more regular types of fruit and vegetables (Chinchillas and Red Squirrels being two notable examples), but the humble Rose Hip has a chemical consistency that allows for the almost immediate absorption of Vitamin C into the metabolism of just about any animal.
Interestingly, this fact once enabled me to treat a very young calf Elephant suffering with a life-threatening bout of Elephant flu one Christmas many, many years ago. She went on to make a full recovery and is still alive and well to this day!
Elephant flu? Don't worry, it's nowhere near as dangerous as bird flu,but if you ever get it, you will need a very, very large handkerchief believe me!
As for Hawthorn Berries, they have long been used around the world for many different purposes, including the making of jellies and flours.They come from a small, spiny tree related to the Rose family which is indigenous to the Mediterranean region.
Throughout history, Hawthorn has had a reputation both as a symbol of hope and as a symbol of evil. At one time Christianity regarded the plant as sacred, due to the belief that it furnished Christ’s crown of thorns.
Hawthorn is especially popular in Europe, where it's frequently used in a number of herbal tinctures, combinations and teas. The berries’ effects on the circulatory system have been thoroughly researched in recent years and it's been found that certain chemical constituents in the berries seem to enhance enzyme metabolism and oxygen utilization in the muscles of the heart.
Estate Perimeter Gate Hundreds of years old and a testament to the durability of things builtto last back then. Unfortunately, its present condition is more atestament to the vagaries of modern notions of fiscal prioritising thananything else!
Reed-bed Water Margin Part of the "A Sterner Test" series of photographs that I'll be adding to the "Tess" section on the "Blue and Purple" page over the next day or two.
Coordination Obviously, the most important thing to consider when choosing your new puppy is that he or she will coordinate fully with your home's furnishing and fittings. Then, in this way, the quite clever ones will all the more easily be able to climb up onto the settee the moment your back is turned and, despite weeks of training designed to encourage them NOT to do it, will blend effortlessly into their immediate surroundings and promptly fall asleep!
Mind you, twenty years and I'm STILL struggling to keep my kids off the furniture!
Eye of the Storm ....and if you've ever owned a bright, inquisitive, exceptionally determined and strong-willed Labradorable puppy then you'll know exactly what I mean!
A Broken Bloody Nose We'll go to all the ancient places that I know And walk there in the sun And give the filthy Cancer A broken bloody nose Before our day is done!
"....also know how important it is in life, not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong!" (Part of a quotation that struck a chord with me and which comes from the extraordinarily brilliant book/film "Into the Wild". If you haven't seen it already, then you don't know what you're missing)
Ancient Trails My wife loves to walk in the countryside with me and so my MO is simple....I take her to the special places that I know, ancient places where she can feel the sun or the rain on her face and the breeze in her hair. She gets some colour in her cheeks and is immersed in the same life forces all around her that I experience every day in my job.Then, when she looks in the mirror at home, she sees a reinvigorated vitality staring right back at her and a broken circle of connections is repaired and an inner balance is restored.
What she has is incurable, but it's treatable through drugs. The treatment however, is worse than the disease in many ways and the side-effects are unpleasant to say the least. My way of fighting this is in addition to the awful drugs, not instead of and I know that many will scoff at what I'm trying to do, but I'm a very determined individual (we both are) and it's the only way that I know how to take it on....I feel so useless doing nothing otherwise!
I guess most people have forgotten (or have simply never known) how to feel a part of the Natural World, though they sense an echo of it sometimes as they stand on a beach gazing out at the ocean or as they swim with Dolphins or sit beside a river on a sunny day in Spring. The forces of Nature are formidable however and, although we may not be able to prevent the inevitable, we can at least postpone it and make the intervening time more a little more pleasant.
My Gran is long gone now of course and, although she had no cure for Cancer, she knew of a hundred ways to cheat and frustrate it. Meanwhile, the walking is just one of the things that she encouraged and, for as long as my wife actually wants to ramble in ancient woodlands or across open farmland or along river banks, then I'll always be there to take her!
Beyond Human Recollection There are still a few precious places in Britain that are ancient beyond human recollection....older than our oldest temples and grander than our grandest cathedrals and I took my wife to walk in such a place today.
At one point, we stood very quietly for a few minutes and listened to all the sounds of the forest....Not many it seemed at first, but then there were more....and more....and soon the place was alive with a feast of birdsong and other forest noises. Chattering Squirrels competed with quarrelsome Jays for the best acorns....an old bull Deer bellowed far off as leaves rustled in the breeze. Pheasants scuttled and gossiped in the undergrowth around us and Wood-pigeons flapped nervously in the treetops above our heads as a Buzzard's piercing, haunting cry made the hairs stand up on the backs of our necks....Then there were the smells....of decomposing leaf-litter and damp leaf mulch and a hint of wood-smoke drifting from a forester's cottage. The scent of pine needles was strong and the downward-heading sap of ancient Oaks gave off it's own sickly-sweet perfume.
....and a thousand other things breathed life into an otherwise still and very ancient place.
Glorious Autumnal Colours I mean....how is it possible for something like this NOT to make you feel at least a little bit better in yourself?
Batsford Arboretum The fact that it was a damp, grey, overcast and occasionally drizzly day, didn't stop my wife, my daughter and myself from heading about fifteen miles up the road from where we live to the beautiful Batsford Arboretum to spend a few hours walking amongst the Autumn-bedecked trees and shrubs. We took our cameras too and, despite the weather, brought back a few shots of what we saw. There is a small write-up and more Batsford photos on the next page.
Heart of a Lily
Virginia Creeper ...I know what you're thinking....another one of my ex-girlfriends!
"Puppy" on the "Blue and Purple" page
The "Essence" of Treeness
The Last Hill Before Home I haven’t been out much for a week or so because I've spent the whole time with my wife as she adapts to the heavy medicinal regime that she’s had to undertake over the last few days. However, she spent most of the day with her Mum today (3rd October) so I was able to get out and do some proper ranger work and covered about twenty-four miles on foot (as the Crow flies) in one huge circle across the Cotswold countryside. It may sound a long way, but it’s what we’re used to. If I tried cycling that kind of distance for example, I wouldn’t be able to sit down or stand up for a week! Not to mention that I rode a horse for barely half an hour awhile ago and I couldn’t walk for three days afterwards!
Basically, twenty-four miles takes most of the day at a steady pace and only allows for a certain amount of time to do all the survey stuff we have to do. The weather was nice for once though….sunny most of the time and the air was fresh and crisp….an altogether pleasant autumnal day.
"Old Blue Eyes" I've suddenly acquired a little friend. I don't know her name, but she must belong to someone new in the village...I don't know who or where they live.
I call her "Old Blue Eyes" and my wife says that she's now able to tell when I'm about to arrive home because the cat appears on the lawn all of a sudden and then goes all silly when my car comes round the corner! She even runs to me when I get out of the car and plays around my feet and it's not until after I've made a fuss of her that she wanders off again. She also tends to spend a great deal of the day (if it's not raining) sitting or lying under the big Pampas Grass that we have at the front of the house. Meanwhile, I don't feed her because then she'd probably be getting two meals a day and would end up getting fat!
I used to have a very special dog called Chloe back in the days when I was a teacher and she always seemed to know when I was on my way home from work and would go and sit on the doormat by the front door about five minutes before I drove up to the house, regardless of what time I eventually finished at school!
I'm not that much of a feline person really and I don't particularly like the bird-killing monster of a cat that lives in the house a couple of doors up from us, but this one is a gentle little soul by comparison and is quite endearing!
Clematis My Mother-in-Law's garden is full of early Autumn colour at the moment and this is one of the reasons why.
Sunflower and Sunlight
Chiloe Wigeon Normally Native to Argentina and Chile and resident in the Falkland Islands, Chiloe Wigeon are perhaps the last species of wildfowl you'd expect to see on a small river running through a village in the Cotswolds, but there they were....four of them in total, along with assorted Mallard and a sprinkling of orange-beaked Jemima Puddleducks! Villagers have always allowed their various Ducks and Geese to access the river and now they've been joined by these South American quackqueros!
The last time I saw them was in the wild was in 1982. In fact, four of us suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a whole bunch of them and they didn't even know we were there! Mind you, none of us were there to watch birds at the time and we were all very tired, very damp and thoroughly cold to the bone! The birds made a slightly macabre, but welcome distraction!
Ultra-Timid and Very Tiny Muntjac Deer So shy and reclusive that most people don't even know such things as Muntjac Deer exist in the British countryside...though they can be nosey little beggars if you're sitting quietly for long enough and you just happen to have a packet of Garibaldi biscuits!
Interesting facts about Muntjacs.....Also known as "Barking Deer" (because they sometimes bark like a small dog), there are ten extant species, of which I've seen both the Indian and the Reeves in the wild in the UK. They are also the oldest species of Deer on earth. Fossilised remains have been discovered alongside remarkably preserved packets of Garibaldi biscuits in Miocene deposits up to 35 million years old!
This fairly young animal eventually worked up enough courage to feed from my hand!
Dahlia "Moonfire" I like this flower and I like the name too.
Female Common Darter....I think! I've said it before, but the problem with getting a photo like this with my little point-and-shoot Ricoh Caplio R7 camera is that, although it has a great macro facility, it also means that I have to get to within one centimetre of the subject in order to make the shot....and that's not always easy with something as skittish as a Hawker!
Oh, by the way, I understand that they've just held the "Pout-Mouth of the Year" awards in the US and that wotsername Knightly has just edged out Angelina thingumybob to take the title....Mmm, I'm not sure I agree with that, but here's a pout-mouth to really shout about!
Another Female Darter, but on Hemp Agrimony This Time It's been a very good day for photographing all kinds of Darters, Hawkers, Chasers, Skimmers, Demoiselles and Damselflies. In fact, a little bit of sunshine made all the difference today!
The "Liquifier" Don't you just want to give them a great big hug? Mmm....but it's another one for Nobby to identify, though maybe it's the female version of the unidentified spider shown on the right-hand side of this page.
Old "Beady-Eye" the Oak Bush Cricket This is a creature that is rarely seen in daylight. They hang around in the foliage of deciduous trees, particularly Oaks and only come out at night, though they are occasionally attracted to household lights. You can imagine my surprise therefore when this one suddenly landed on my watch-strap compass!
Male Common Red Darter These beautiful, but fiercely territorial Dragonflies like to spend a great deal of their time on the ground from where they will launch attacks on passing insects or on other Red Darter males. Despite their colour, they are surprisingly difficult to see however and I was actually very lucky to spot this one while walking around the margin of a field near Abingdon in Oxfordshire. The field itself had attracted me because it was completely covered in Redshank (the plant that is, not the bird) which itself, is something that you don't very often see these days. Redshank (shown below) is considered a weed, but there was so much of it (and only in the one field) that I was tempted to think it was being grown deliberately as a crop for some reason.
Redshank (AKA Persicaria, Lady's Thumb and Willow Weed) So, what's at all interesting about Redshank....Well, in this instance, there was so much of it growing in one field, I'm inclined to think that the topsoil is likely to be completely deficient in lime and that the sheer quantity of the plant will eventually prove to be a major headache for the farmer when he decides to use the field for a different crop. Redshank seed, for example, is extremely difficult to eliminate from the soil, where it can remain viable for up to fifty years. Meanwhile, seed still occurring on the plant can cause significant impurities to the harvest of any crop grown where Redshank persists, including to most types of Cereals, Clover, Flax and even Grass.
In times past, people believed that the plant was nutritious enough to feed to their livestock and certainly did so from time to time. We were taught from a survival perspective however, that, although the leaves are quite rich in vitamin C and can be eaten in an emergency, they contain a high proportion of oxalates and may well prove toxic if consumed in large enough amounts. Children, for example, would be at far greater risk compared to adults, but it's also worth remembering that some adults would react less favourably than others. All in all, Redshank is best left well and truly alone!
No Bovver with a Hover Myathropa florea I think....the one that looks a lot like a Drone Fly wearing a jet pilot's helmet!
Large White I've added this specimen and the Small White below to compliment the Green-Veined White a few pictures further down. I had an interesting conversation with an ageing allotment owner the other day about Large Whites. He must have been in his eighties and said he'd had an allotment since the 1960s. He also recalled an argument he'd had last summer with a young couple who'd just taken on a plot of land adjacent to his. "They're two of the new breed" he said, "don't know nuthin' about anythin'! Instead they siz sump'un on telly an' thinks thers nuthin' to it!" He went on to explain that the couple were concerned about an infestation of tiny flies in their little allotment shed and had set about eliminating them with a chemical insecticide. The old guy had spotted this and wandered over to see what they were killing. "They wuz killin' a whole loada Cotesia glomerata!" he said incredulously, "Hundreds of 'em....Bloody hundreds!"
Just as with many of the new-wave wannabe "Good Life" amateur Bee-keepers keen to set up their own hives in their back gardens and inadvertently creating problems that have enormous implications to all of us, the new generation of allotment owners seem to be mostly comprised of people who, while being great fans of the current trend of TV gardening programmes, actually know nothing about the very thing they're undertaking....in this case, maintaining a healthy allotment....and especially when it comes to paying attention to whatever's being grown on the various plots around them! It's all part of the modern mindset, the rallying cry of which appears to be "Me, Me, Me and Mine and to Hell with all the Rest!"
Cotesia Glomerata? A tiny fly that lays its eggs in the caterpillar of the Large White Butterfly and is estimated to be responsible for destroying more than 50% of those voracious devourers of cultivated Brassicas, Nasturtiums and wild Crucifers. The elderly gent explained that he manages to earn a few bob supplying cabbages and the like to a local farm shop and had a glint in his eye when he told me how angry he'd been with the couple....and then he said something that I'm always going on about on these websites...."Balance and connections" he said...."It's all about balance and connections, but try telling them that!"
Small White Like its Large and Green-Veined cousins, the Small White is yet another member of the Peridae family, which also includes the Brimstone, Clouded Yellow and Orange-Tip Butterflies. It's larvae represent a significant pest to Brassica crops and is one Butterfly species whose population levels are not considered to be under serious threat due to the huge increase in the growing of such Brassicas as Oilseed Rape.
Red-Eye Fly The patterns of the veins on the wings, the gap between the eyes, the silvery hairs on the thorax and its overall size all seem to suggest that this is the rare and very localized Leucophenga maculata (a male in fact), but it probably isn't....especially as it was on the Buddlea bush in my garden! I've seen them many times before around where I live, but I've always preferred to call them "Red-Eye Flies".
Little Blue I've always had trouble getting anything like a decent photograph of a Little Blue (yes, I know....more often called the "Small Blue")....they're quite tiny, very quick, nearly always on the move and rarely in a relaxed state of mind. However, I took this shot on a really warm, sunny day in North Cornwall and only shortly after this particular little imp had been trying to land on me! Little Blues are sometimes attracted to human sweat (on hot days) and will often hover close to your face and arms while following you for quite some distance if they feel it's necessary!
Ten-Spot or Eyed Ladybird? Years ago I looked up this species in two different Insect books (in fact, I have them in front of me right now) and, while one book identifies it as an Anatis ocellata, the other claims that it's an Adalia decempunctata (which I thought was a Ten-Spot Ladybird)! The result is that I've been totally confused ever since! Well, I'm opting for this particular individual being a variety of the Ten-Spot (though not one I've seen outside of the book before), whose markings can vary quite considerably. To qualify as an Eyed Ladybird, it needs to have yellowy-white rings surrounding each of its spots (hence the name) plus the fact that this one was sheltering from the rain in the Buddlea bush at the top of my garden rather than being up a Conifer tree somewhere....which is where you tend to find the Eyed Ladybirds most of the time. By the way, I didn't have the heart to disturb it just to see if it had the yellowish legs diagnostic of the Ten-Spot.
Mmm....Isn't Nature wonderful the way that it not only manages to confuse complete idiots like me, but frequently refuses to conform to the text books written by all those clever experts as well!
Green-Veined White Following a few sunny spells, there seemed to be a fair showing of Butterflies generally in Cornwall in July/August, 2008 and my best moment had to be when I spotted a White Admiral in a small woodland not far from the place I was staying. Disappointingly however, it was up and away long before I could manoeuvre myself into a position to get a decent photograph.
Red Admiral Not the much scarcer White Admiral that I would so dearly have loved to photograph, but I took this shot to illustrate how well camouflaged the Red Admiral can be when sitting on an old piece of wood or amongst dry leaves with its wings folded.
Hover Fly on a Wild Carrot Umbrel It was absolutely *issing down when I took this picture and the light was bleepin' awful, but if you ever want to know where Hover Flies go when it's raining...well, I guess they just carry on regardless!
Small Tortoiseshell The Small Tortoiseshell is a very common Butterfly and one familiar to most of us and, for that reason alone, it's all too easy to overlook just how beautifully marked this species actually is! By the way, any self-respecting wildlife gardener should always include a Buddlea Bush or two in their garden for the adult Small Tortoiseshells and a patch of Nettles somewhere or other for the Larvae.
Mosquito This is a daylight-loving female Culiseta annulata and is entirely dedicated to sucking the blood from almost any vertebrate it happens across (I used to go out with someone like that). The male of the species on the other hand, which is distinguishable by its feathered antennae, only feeds from nectar and honeydew and can often be seen in large dense swarms during the winter. I photographed this one as it was investigating a pool of extremely polluted water, probably with a view to laying its next batch of eggs. Almost any pool of relatively still water will be considered suitable for egg-laying purposes and the eggs will soon hatch into larvae universally referred to as "wrigglers".
Although completed a fortnight ago, my new wildlife pond at the top of the garden is already alive with wrigglers and so yesterday, I set off with my net and caught a dozen or so Water-Boatmen in a nearby lake. I then added them to my pond....and that should take care of the Mosquito larvae problem in next to no time!
Meanwhile, don't confuse this species with the malaria-carrying Anophiline Mosquitoes. Certainly, the one shown here will be keen to bite you and sometimes cause a nasty blister-type reaction, but it wont give you malaria. However, several of the Malaria- carrying species are gradually making their way northwards as climate change results in milder European winters and increasingly damp summers.
Pollen Makes the World Go Round Are you one of those people following the current trend to be a little bit more self-sufficient? Have you just put your name down for patch at your local allotment? Thinking of growing your own fruit and veg? Keeping a few Chickens and a Goat? Making enquiries about buying a hive and getting yourself a few honey Bees (possibly via the internet)? Mmm....Good luck, but just bear in mind that in the last few years, amateur so-called apiarists who were completely new to the art of Bee-keeping have managed to cause and are continuing to cause incalculable devastation, not only to their own hive, but to hives right across the UK! Failure to understand the dire consequences of not maintaining a completely healthy and totally disease-free hive, of failing to appreciate the extent of the damage that a single infected hive can cause on the wider stage and a total inability to comprehend both the needs and the vulnerabilities of the average Honey Bee, have all been major factors in contributing to the desperately worrying decline in the populations of ALL species of Bee in the UK!
So, if you are considering becoming an independent producer of honey, then think again....You may get a few jars of golden delight for all your trouble, but you are far more likely to do untold damage in the wider scheme of things! Experienced Bee-keepers will have learned their trade over decades, but even they are failing to cope with the problems currently facing the industry. Bees are dying in their millions, entire hives are being wiped out in their hundreds and, if you're seriously thinking about setting up your own hive(s), then DON'T! You will only add to the problem, not solve it!
Water Forget-Me-Not (Pink) The texture and colour of this tiny flower (about the size of a pea) reminds me of those pink sugar mice that you used to be able to buy from old-fashioned sweet shops when I was a kid. I think they cost a penny and came in pink, white and blue versions with a bit of string for a tail. You can still buy them these days, but with five major differences....1, Now they come wrapped in cellophane with a label so that we can all be reassured that yes, we really are slowly poisoning ourselves by not heeding the health warnings about artificial colours, e-numbers and sugar....2, No string for a tail any more, presumably for fear of litigation should some idiot accidentally swallow it (serve 'em right in my book for being totally stupid!)....3, The fact that they do now have artificial colours and e-numbers, despite the Human Race getting along without such things just fine and dandy for the last three million years....4, They don't cost a penny any more. In fact, I saw some in a fudge shop in Cornwall recently for 60p each....that's twelve shillings in real money....and when I was a boy, twelve bob would have bought you 144 sugar mice....and a clip round the ear from your mother for wasting her hard-earned cash! Today, if my maths is correct, 144 sugar mice would cost you £86.40! Finally....5, The modern ones taste like cr*p!
A "Pauline" No, that's actually the name given to this particular variety of flower, but there are also varieties of Iris, Rose, Cactus and many others all called "Pauline".
Pink Dahlia The unfurled petals in the very centre of a Dahlia always remind me of someone's fingers holding on to something precious or fragile.
The "Hub" of a Snow Lady
Seven-Spot Ladybird....AKA "The Aphid Muncher" I took about a dozen pictures of this fascinating insect, during which time she ate three of those tiny Black Bean Aphids....and that's why experienced gardeners so actively encourage little Coccinella septempunctata into their gardens and allotments.
Ladybirds incidentally, are always brightly-coloured to warn predators that they are either poisonous or foul-tasting and, in a photo like this, I think they also look like a bit like a cycling helmet!
Woolly Thistle Vortex About to Erupt into Flower This is one very large and seriously aggressive species of UK thistle and probably just about edges it as my favourite.
Impossibly Beautiful Creatures Feeding on Pieces of Fruit
Guinea Pigs or Cavies (Above and Below) As you'll doubtless be aware, Guinea Pigs do not hail from Guinea....nor are they a kind of pig! They are, in fact, a type of rodent originally native to the South American Andes. Sadly however, they are no longer extant in the wilds of their homeland, but I do think it's safe to argue that the all too familiar Guinea Pig is practically guaranteed long-term survival, at least as a caged pet species forced to reside in the bedrooms of young children all over the planet, simply because they have a fluffy-wuffy, cuddly-type cuteness factor pretty much on a par with that of Bambi!
Poppy Field When you see Poppies like this, it's not difficult to see why they ultimately became synonymous with warfare and, in particular, with the Somme and Flanders Field during the First World War.
"Hungry-Hippo I know that some of you are concerned to know about the progress (or lack of it) of the various birds that visit my garden, so here's a photo of Hungry-Hippo taken almost a week after the one below. As you can see, he's doing just fine, but he is now having to manage entirely by himself due to the fact that Two-Tone has finally kicked him out! In fact, by returning to this particular feeding station, he's actually re-entering Two-Tone's territory and is running a very real risk of being given a good going over!
Provided that he can stay clear of my neighbour's dreaded cat, I think he'll be ok from now on. He's a strong bird and quite wilful towards most other species, so now all he needs to do is find a territorial niche and, as long as he has the sense to avoid Two-Tone and DT (especially DT who I saw chasing a Mouse off the lawn briefly yesterday!!!), then I reckon he's got a good chance to live long and prosper....we'll just have to wait and see.
"Hungry-Hippo " ....Well, that's what my daughter suggests he should be called and I can't see why not. He eats for three and drives Two-Tone, his father, to distraction....He just doesn't stop demanding to be fed....Ever!
The Last Sibling Not so long ago, "Two-Tone" the Blackbird was a proud husband and the father of four bonny eggs....everything looked rosy and tickety-boo. Two weeks later, the young fledgling in the picture above is all that remains of his family! One egg failed to hatch, two of the fledglings were taken by a neighbour's cat and seemingly killed for the fun of it and now his mate has gone missing and I've not seen her for at least three days! Nevertheless, he struggles on, determined to raise his last remaining offspring. He was out there this morning at about 0500hrs, feeding the infinitely voracious youngster anything and everything he could find and he'll still be out there until late this evening! Perhaps in a way, it's not such a bad thing that he only has one youngster to feed as he doesn't seem to eat much himself. Meanwhile, he practically has a conniption fit every time he thinks he hears or sees something threatening (which is most of the time) and I do feel sorry for him because his stress levels must be through the roof! Interestingly, I have begun to notice a subtle difference in his alarm calls and I can now predict with about 75% accuracy whether it will be a cat, a dog, a gang of Jackdaws or people before I go outside to check!
Banded Demoiselle Also called the Banded Damselfly or the Banded Agrion, I've placed this incredible creature here (above and below) for two reasons....1, to compliment the picture of the beautiful Beautiful Demoiselle on the "Home" page of the co.uk site and....2, to act as a stark contrast to "Captain Ugly" from the planet "Ugly" in the "Ugloid Nebula" in the photograph below these! Mind you, the Banded Demoiselle is every bit as vicious as the Scorpion Fly, except that it prefers to hunt rather than scavenge and waits patiently in the undergrowth for something tasty to fly by before launching itself into the air in pursuit of its prey. Then it will tear its luckless victim apart with its jaws as it devours it alive....a bit like the Inland Revenue I guess!
Foxglove From Above
Scorpion Fly So there you lie....a poor hapless Crane-Fly all tangled up in a Spider's web, secure in the knowledge that, at any moment, good old "Spiddy" is going to come along and wrap you up all cosy and snug in a cocoon of silken thread! You might even be able to cope with the knowledge that she's then going to inject you full of toxic venom designed to both paralyse you and turn your insides into a mushy gloop ready to be sucked up like some kind of macabre Margarita cocktail! In fact, you might even be able to accept your fate because you know full-well that things can't possibly get any worse! ....Then, right out of the blue, you suddenly find yourself face to face with the principal inspiration for half the insect cast of "Starship Troopers" and soon, very soon, he's going to start eating you alive....but without the benefit of a Spider's paralysing venom! Mind you, at least you get to watch all the gory details from a really up-close perspective!
Scorpion Flies, despite their ferocious appearance and the male's sinister-looking upturned tail, are quite harmless and were always great for catching and using to scare the living bejeebers out of Marjorie Bolton when I was about seven or eight years old (see "Slices" on www.wildliferanger.co.uk)! They're also fairly common in the UK and have a scavenging talent that baffles even the best of the bug experts (the Scorpion Flies that is, not Marjorie Bolton....but then, on the other hand!)!....They can actually manage to land on any Spider's web without getting stuck, extricate a trapped insect from the sticky threads and then fly off with it to eat elsewhere....and all without the Spider appearing to notice....Mind you, if I was a Spider, I don't think I'd be too quick to notice either!
DT Junior This poor little scrap was at the centre of great dramatic happenings in my next-door neighbour's garden early this evening (12th May 2008)! For the full story, see the diary entry on the "Brown" page.
Dent-de-Lion As with the likes of Silverweed, Plantain, Bristly Ox-Tongue, Bittercress and Alexanders, the good old Dandelion (or "Lion's Tooth) has been a very important plant to me in times past. The leaves have quite a high vitamin A and C content when young and are fairly tasty in salads (older leaves have less value nutritionally). Even the roots can be dried and ground up to use as a coffee substitute. Most adult members of my family used to make Dandelion wine when I was a boy, including my Dad who enjoyed making wine out of almost anything and which usually supplemented his half crate of Double-Diamond delivered to the door each week! How did it go? "A Double-Diamond works wonders, works wonders. A Double-Diamond works wonders so drink some today"! My Gran used to make a kind of Dandelion soup (which I didn't like much)....something she'd done as a girl to give to her Mother who suffered for many years with consumption. I loved her home-made Dandelion and Burdock drink....the real stuff, not the crap you buy these days....and her lemonade made with real Lemons was pretty good as well. I personally think that today's kids miss out on such things, though I suppose modern parents more than make up for it with copious amounts of E400-ade and Crappa-Cola!
Please Note.... Despite this being a designated .com site, there's not actually anything for sale here and, therefore, nothing for you to buy. Nor is it intended as a work of reference....In fact, I don't know Jack Squat from his bum-bone about anything much, so if you're so desperate that you need to consult something published here, then you really are in a very, very bad way! What there is however, is a bunch of pictures of mostly birds, flowers and landscapes taken with a couple of different cameras that I nearly always have set on "Auto". For this reason (amongst others) I don't consider myself to be much of a photographer and, although a few of the photos might be deemed pretty enough to appear on the lid of the odd box of chocolates....and bearing in mind that I do try to be a bit arty-farty sometimes, I'm fully aware that I simply don't have the talent of the professionals. Nevertheless, people do keep logging-on to both this and its sister co.uk site in their tens of thousands (for reasons best known to themselves), often from dark and shady places in countries all around the world....and with almost two million hits already by June 2008 * (possibly as many as three million depending on how you split the site links), I can assure you, no-one is more gob-smacked than me about the ever-increasing amount of interest being shown!
* According to stats provided daily by my web-hosts Netbenefit.
An Old Cornish Tin Mine Near Chapel Porth
Beauty and the Beast
Stressed-Out Wood Ant I saw a Green Woodpecker today, jumping up and down excitedly to one side of the woodland trail about fifty metres ahead of me. Every few seconds, it would suddenly leap forward and stab at the ground with its beak! I knew what it was doing....it was feeding on Ants.
This is defining Green Woodpecker behaviour that I've wanted to photograph for years, but unfortunately, the wily bird must have seen me approaching at some point because he waited and waited and then flew off just moments before I'd managed to manoeuvre close enough to get even a half-decent picture!
Oh well, I decided to take a good look at the Ant's nest instead....Understandably, the little insects were in a bit of a tiz to say the least, but were already beginning to focus on repairing the damage inflicted on the nest-mound caused by the wilful bird!
Red Dead-Nettle Extremely common on grass verges up and down the country, but so easy to overlook, the Red Dead-Nettle is, nonetheless, a strikingly attractive plant when studied closely. I took this shot from slightly beneath the plant to emphasize the extraordinary and quite beautiful nature of the flowers. Sadly (though possibly not), most people are hardly aware that they are even there.
Slender Speedwell As with the Wood Anenome and Lesser Celandine, I can't remember the humble, lawn-loving Slender Speedwell being as prolific as it seems to be this Spring (2008).
Wildlife Refuge Many more farmers these days are leaving the borders of their fields uncultivated for the benefit of wildlife and I'm totally convinced that we're already beginning to see huge benefits from this with regard to the future survival of many species of plants, mammals, birds, invertebrates and reptiles....not to mention more insects than you can poke with a pointy stick....so I wont....mention it that is!
Reach for the Sun
Scenic Cotswolds And the snow lay like icing sugar Dusting the land Sprinkled by Angels At God's own command
White-Eye Robins love to sing at all hours of the day and night and it was about mid-day when I took this shot of White-Eye vocalising for all he was worth in the front garden. However, he's just as likely to be heard singing at three in the morning from one of the trees beneath the street lamp just over the road! Robins actually have good night vision and, as a result, can be quite active during the dark hours...particularly in well-lit areas and during full moons. Their song can also be quite rich, melodic and varied, especially in the Spring, leading to some people occasionally mistaking them for Nightingales!
Yellow Primrosy Primula Thing....21st March....the first day of Spring 2008 I wanted to take a picture in my garden today of something to help celebrate the official "First Day of Spring", but as I searched around for a suitable subject, it began to snow....just lightly at first, then much more heavily! Most of the snowflakes fell upon the ground of course, but a few caressed and kissed the petals of this Primrose/Primula flower....and melted in their passion almost instantly. This continued for a few minutes and, for a while at least, it looked as though we might be enjoying a white Easter high up here in the Cotswold Hills....but then it stopped snowing just as suddenly as it had begun and, within minutes, all signs of the snow had disappeared....except that is, for the tiny droplets of ice-cold water on the petals of this vibrant little flower!
Newly Emerged Marbled Butterfly on a Bramble Rose I stumbled upon this picture in my Butterfly archives last night and, although it may well be featured elsewhere on one or other of my websites, to be quite honest, I can't be bothered to check! The sites themselves are getting so large these days and filled with so much inane rubbish that I even find myself saying the same things over and over the same things over and over! Anyway, it's of a Marbled Butterfly and was taken last Summer in a hedgerow near the pretty village of Chedworth in the Cotswolds.
Great Grey Owl
"Little Frog" It may not look like it, but this is one of the larger members of the Buttercup or Ranunculus family and is the cultured version of the Marsh Marigold....and just as poisonous! Ranunculus is Latin for "Little Frog" (no, I don't know for certain either, but I do have a vague recollection of an old story involving a frog, a kiss and a prince who died of guilt) and has always been a popular bloom to give to someone you admire because in the Victorian's "Language of Flowers", a Ranunculus is supposed to signify a richness of attractions.
Hubble Primula One from my garden and looking a bit as though it was photographed using the Hubble telescope!
Foraging Wren I have a selection of full-grown and miniature fir trees in my garden, planted with the intention of attracting foraging Wrens and the occasional passing Goldcrest (below)....and it works! On the other hand, while encouraging Wrens to adopt your land as their own isn't too difficult, it's a much greater challenge to get them to nest there! In fact, my own resident pair of Troglodytes troglodytes have always preferred to raise their families in the same place each year....just beyond the back fence. This time however, it looks as though they're breaking with time-honoured tradition and building a nest in the little Wren-basket that I nailed to the side of the shed last Autumn. To be on the safe side though, I leave them well alone....apart from taking the odd picture or two (above) as they scramble for food amongst the branches of the Firs
Hen Goldcrest Goldcrests must surely be one of the most infuriating species of bird to photograph as they never sit still for more than a second or two at most! This tiny scrap of nervous energy is, along with the much rarer Firecrest, our smallest British Bird (even smaller than a Wren). They visit my garden every once in a while throughout the year, but at least several times a day during the Spring. The bird in the picture is the female of a pair currently nesting very close to my garden. It's possible to tell that she's female by the yellow streak on her crown....the male has a slightly more orangey version.
Primula Garden Display A beautiful, sunny blue-sky day with hardly a breeze to stir the trees, but barely twelve hours after I took this photograph, Southern and Western Wales and the entire South and South-West of England were being pounded by one of the the worst storms ever recorded for the month of March!
"DT" Another shot of "DT", but taken with the Ricoh. This bird has become very tame with me!
Infra-Red Yellow Mongoose Not recent, but it's surprising what you come up with when you ferret about in the virtual attic....I couldn't resist taking a quick shot of this little Yella fella keeping warm under an infra-red lamp at the time and now here it is!
Early Primrose This is the first Gloucestershire Wild Primrose I've seen in 2008 (spotted on 27th February), but I did see a few last week as well growing on a grass verge in South Wiltshire.
Black-Winged Stilt Not exactly up to much as a picture, this is another one for Mr Dowde, the "real" birder, who doesn't much like all the "garden rubbish" I keep putting on my websites. The trouble is, I get just as much of a buzz from taking a good shot of a Blackbird as I do from something a little more rare....though I can assure you Mr Dowde, there's a lot more where this BWS came from....and who knows, I might upload some of them as time goes by....I've got to be careful though, the last thing I want is for people to think I'm a "real" birder like you!
White-Eye the Robin This photograph is dedicated to Mrs Werther of Chipping Norton whose favourite bird apparently is the good old British Robin. It shows a bird I call White-Eye chancing his luck in my back garden where another male Robin named Uppity Bill reigns supreme.
Hen Greenfinch A generally much gentler-looking (and less yellow at this time of year) version of the usually far more aggressive male of the species, the hen Greenfinch can be just as ferocious towards all and sundry at the bird-table. I caught this particular lady (the same bird as in the picture below) looking almost wistful, but she was simply checking around for any other birds who might attempt to chase her from her hard-won place at the food supply!
Eye of the Greenfinch....Obviously not a very good photograph technically, but I believe that the potential for instant aggression in this little bird is there for all to see and that's what I tried to show! Without doubt, current trends in bird photography demand that the subject be "contextualized"....in other words, that it should be depicted in a meaningful relationship to its habitat or surroundings and that (if at all possible) it should be depicted doing something behaviourally interesting. Mmm....I'm afraid that such things don't really interest me very much, simply because (for me) the majority of such photographs, while often being extremely demanding technically and of great interest to the birding fraternity at large, rarely seem to capture the individual "personality" of the animal or its own particular sense of self-identity....and that's why I usually try to get 'much closer to my subject (a bit more up close and personal) before I take its picture! The eyes in particular, are very important to me because I usually have an overwhelming desire to create a sense of "connection" with the bird and a need to draw the viewer right into the photograph itself, enabling them to experience at least some of the thrill I felt when I took it. Sadly however, it's not something I find at all easy to do! I'm certainly not saying that I'm all that successful in achieving my aims....In fact, if I'm honest, I believe that I've only ever really managed to capture anything remotely like the "essence" of a bird's personality about half a dozen times in all the thousands of photographs I've taken over the years! Oh well, rest assured, I'm reliably informed that due to my abject failure to "go with the flow", I shall ensure the continuation of two things....first, that my half-baked theory that birds have their own clearly identifiable individual personalities will always attract universal derision from those who know best and that, second, my own particular brand of "in your face" bird photography will never amount to anything more than a pile of over-sentimentalized cr*p!
Str-e-tch! Scores if not hundreds of birds visited my garden today (16th February, 2008) in the bright and and unseasonally warm Winter sunshine and there were often times when behaviour at the bird-feeders was more reminiscent of a shark feeding frenzy! As the day wore on however and the shadows grew longer, the larger birds, such as the Jackdaws,Starlings and Blackbirds, began to settle in the trees, fly off to roost or begin defending their territorial boundaries in earnest, leaving the smaller species to continue eating. Eventually, the medium-sized types, such as the Sparrows, Dunnocks, Finches, etc also began to ease off the gas until pretty much only the smaller and therefore less energy efficient Tit species (and the Robins of course) were still taking advantage of the last few minutes of daylight available to them. Many birds, particularly the Chaffinches, hung around in the trees at the end of the garden, their tummies full, apparently enjoying the sunset and it was then that my attention was drawn to the little hen Chaffinch in the picture above. As for why....I'm afraid you'll have to consult today's entry in the diary on the "Brown" page....
Apoplectic Blue Tit The Blue Tits in particular get incredibly cross with me when all I seem to be doing is pratting around in the garden or up a tree with a blinkin' camera like some poor man's Eric Hosking instead of getting on with filling the bleepin' bird-feeders!
Early Daffodil Not your usual shot of a Daff I guess, but I took this to show all the gubbins inside the flower head. This is one of my wife's early bloomers....in fact, I think the ones that have flowered in the garden this year are the earliest we've ever had them, first budding around the middle of January! Mind you, it's certainly no record for Daffodils in general, which have been known to push their way through six inches of snow as early as Christmas-time, but it's pretty good going for us!
Clanger Eggs Until now it was generally believed that the incredibly trusting Whistling Clanger (Clangus rogerus whitakus) had completely disappeared sometime during the late 1970s or early 1980s....possibly filmed into extinction by the BBC! However, you can imagine my joy when I accidentally stumbled across these beautifully constucted Clanger nests, many of which contained a single egg-shaped....er, egg! Needless to say, we immediately cordoned off the area and have begun a twenty-four hour nest watch....I'll keep you posted!
January Heather It's always a delight to stumble across a patch or two of Winter-flowering Calluna vulgaris....and especially at that time of year when most living things in the countryside have either completely died back or appear to have gone into hiding! The above picture isn't of a truly wild Heather however, so I guess it would be technically incorrect for me to refer to it by its old country name of "Ling" (from the Anglo-Saxon "Lig" meaning "Fire")....a name which probably harks back to times gone by when Heather had significant importance rurally as an efficient fuel substitute. In fact, Heather used to be a plant of tremendous importance in all manner of ways around and about the country-based home....bunches of the stems could be bound together to make brushes and brooms (Calluna derives from a Greek word meaning "to brush") or used individually to make woven baskets. It was also used for the thatching of roofs and even as a filler for mattresses. We take things like brushes and containers very much for granted these days, but it wasn't so long ago that any plant versatile enough to be used in the making of such things would have been highly prized as a natural resource and probably valued and protected as such! In wildlife terms, Heather is desperately important, both as a food resource and as living refuge for a vast assortment of animal species....from Bees feeding on the nectar in the flowers to Lizards scuttling about, hidden beneath the foliage, to countless birds feeding on the seeds and Red Grouse feasting on the younger shoots. Meanwhile, I have only ever encountered the mystically lucky "White" Heather a handful of times throughout my life....but sadly, not at all in the last twenty years!
Seed Case Less than half the size of my little finger-nail, this tiny, but intricately detailed seed case was stuck in the mud that I scraped from one of my boots. I liked the shape and texture of it and its colour....so I took a picture!
Please Note.... The latest diary entries are currently being added on the "Brown" page.
Leaf Membrane You see, this is obviously where I differ from "normal" men who use their cameras to take pictures of the kids playing in the garden and the new car on the driveway....Oh well, I can't help it, I find things like this infinitely fascinating....it's just the way I am!
Pink Valerian A quick sortee into beautiful Dorsetshire this week and a wander round a few of the water margins down there in the pouring rain left me feeling quite damp from time to time, but I also took a fair few photographs of the many and varied plants still very much in flower at the moment, including lots of Red, White and Pink Valerian!
Blue Tit I couldn't resist taking a quick shot of this little Blue Tit seemingly locked into position on the fat-ball feeder right outside my living room window....He just stayed there for ages. Meanwhile, literally dozens of Blue Tits visit the feeders in both my front and back gardens and I've counted as many as fourteen leaving the Sparrow terrace nestbox just before first light really early in the morning where they roost in numbers to keep warm through the cold Winter nights. I'm very pleased with the successes I've had getting Blue Tits and Great Tits to use the nest-boxes in my garden throughout the year....for raising young in the Summer and for roosting in the Winter. In fact, I believe that it's the year-round availability of food, a plentiful supply of suitable nest-boxes and appropriate places to roost in the Winter that has resulted in a huge increase in the numbers of these vulnerable little birds in the immediate area around my home, if not throughout most of the village! Mind you, a handful of particularly harsh Winter days and nights in quick succession could undo all that effort in one fell swoop!
Cornish Winter Light As the days shorten and the last of the tourists seep back into the normal routines of their lives back home, Cornwall begins to exhibit a very special kind of beauty....a beauty created by a combination of the vast emptiness of the landscape and the almost metallic quality of the Winter light.
Sunset from Watergate Bay With miles and miles of coastal footpath behind me and about seven still to walk before getting to Newquay, I was beginning to run out of daylight hours! There were quite a few fairly spectacular sunsets during the time I spent in North Cornwall in mid-November and I'm gradually uploading some of them on the "Yellow" page.
Sunset Stonechat By the middle of November, male Stonechats have usually lost the vibrancy of their Spring and Summer plumage. However, when I saw this tiny chap, I couldn't resist taking a quick snap of him as he sat amongst the Gorse bushes on the cliff-tops above Bedruthan Steps in Cornwall. He seemed to be quite happy just staring out to sea and was clearly enjoying the last of the day's sunshine as the sun set slowly beneath the Western horizon (see picture below) in a blaze of red and gold, adding warmth and texture to the russet and black of the little bird's colouring.
Have You Seen My Ducks? The infuriating thing about this photograph is that, only moments after I'd taken the picture of the Stonechat above with my Nikon Coolpix 4500, I turned round quickly to take this one with my little Fuji Finepix pocket camera fully under the impression that I was actually photographing a long untidy skein of about thirty Common Scoter making their way about fifty metres above sea level (with the sunset as a backdrop) and perhaps no more than four or five hundred metres from the shore....As you can see for yourselves, my ability to take full advantage of what could have been the best shot of the week is without rival!
Autumn Twilight Taken at twilight in the....er....Autumn.
Pretty Flamingo "All of the guys on our block call her Pretty Flamingo...'cause her her hair glows like the sun and her eyes can light the skies" Checking my 1965 diary, I discovered that I went to see Manfred Mann perform that song live on stage that year. Jack Bruce was the bassist with the group at the time and it went on to be number 1 in the charts the following year....I was just sixteen! Meanwhile....I guess most people probably think of birds like the Andean Flamingo (above) as being typically tropical, but In Flamingo lingo, the Andean, James and Chilean Flamingoes are three Altiplano breeds who make their home in the desperately cold and unforgiving high Andes Mountain terrain of Chile, Bolivia and Peru, They inhabit the shallow alkaline or saline lakes and lagoons rich in diatoms, brine-shrimp, copepods and fly larvae more than 14,000 feet above sea level. In fact, they live amongst some of the highest volcanoes in the world where the birds congregate in large flocks amongst the hot springs at night in order to survive temperatures of up to minus twenty degrees F. I took this photograph at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre on a warm sunny day in October 2007.
Town or Feral Pigeon A scavenging pest....an exploitational opportunistic nuisance....or perhaps just just one of those species whose behaviour reminds us (just a little bit) of ourselves? Well, whether you love them, taking time out of your busy schedule to feed them every day, or you absolutely loathe them, considering them to be little more than flying rats, you have to admit that, in the right light, good old Columba livia (domest.) can be a very attractive-looking bird. For the last goodness knows how many years however, I've been taking the time to check out their feet.....Why? Well, I've noticed that about 2% of them suffer badly from arthritis caused by eating too much bread and very little else. The arthritis can gradually cause their toes to turn inwards and they end up having to walk on their knuckles. This eventually causes their toes to wear away to little more than stumps....and that has got to hurt! Anyway, next time you decide to feed the pigions, DON'T GIVE THEM BREAD OR PASTRIES!!! Buy some cheap grain from a pet shop or garden centre and give them that instead!
Cornish Dipper The Dipper is hardly the most prolific of birds and is a frustratingly shy character at the best of times, but if you happen to know of an upland-type, fast-flowing river or stream with torrents of cascading clean, fresh water, plenty of turbulent pools, occasional eddies and a liberal sprinkling of large boulders....plus no shortage of over-hanging trees for extra shade and cover....then you could well be in with a very good chance of seeing a Cinclus cinclus or two. On the other hand, if you want to actually photograph one, then be prepared to sit down and wait patiently (all day if necessary) about ten or fifteen metres from your subject's favourite chilling-out place....the specially chosen rock or sizeable flat stone where he or she likes to spend quality time digesting all those tasty aquatic invertebrates caught earlier on the river bed or, perhaps, where a quick, self-indulgent feather-preen will be the order of the day! Finding such places isn't too difficult if you bear in mind that Dippers are pretty much creatures of habit and that they feel secure in returning to their same beloved rock time and time again. Such oft repeated usage tends to result in large quantities of bird poo splattered all over the rock....so, if you can find a suitably poo be-splattered rock, settle down out of sight with your camera to hand and wait....Besides, you can't do any worse than me
As with www.wildliferanger.co.uk all text, photographs, sketches, cartoons and poetry appearing on this website are protected not only by all the usual copyright restrictions, but also by hordes of deranged sword-wielding Ninja assassins.
Kevin Kettle, Ninja Assassin British Association of Ninja Assassins Northern Area (B.A.N.A.N.A.) (Fully Affiliated Member No. KKB319) No job too small....Large groups catered for Hurry....Two-for-one offer ends Thursday! ("Silent but deadly" a speciality)
Woodland Glade I loved the way that the late afternoon sun was piercing its way through the leaves and branches of this beautiful Copper Beech! Meanwhile, below is a picture of the same tree taken six months later in January....for comparison.
Fleabane Although the 17th Century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper had nothing particularly good to say about this plant, considering it to be "an ill-looking weed" with flowers "small, very poor and of a dirty yellow", I actually find it to be quite interesting....(warning, sad old git alert!). My Gran swore by it as a very effective insecticide and picked the leaves to dry and burn in little pots around her cottage during the late Summer to ward off flies. I also remember her once insisting that I should hang a posy of Fleabane flowers around the neck of "Slipper", my dog, to get rid of a particularly bad infestation of fleas....his not mine! Fleabane was apparently much used in ancient Britain by the Romans in the making of wreaths and the specimen in the photograph above was growing very close to Chedworth Roman Villa. "So what?" you ask....Well, I believe that Fleabane is another one of those plants whose geographical distribution is often closely related to its popularity and usage in times gone by....The association of Common Comfrey and Burnet-Saxifrage with battlefields are two other examples. I think it's only fair to add however, that this is entirely my own theory and most definitely should NOT be taken at face value!
Myathropa florea (I think) Hover Fly on Shasta Daisy
Woolly Thistle You only have to glance down the length of this web-page to realize that I have a strong liking for Thistles of all kinds. I guess it's the colour and vibrancy of their flowers plus their overtly prickly and ruthlessly independent dispositions that appeal to me more than anything....and, believe me, the Woolly Thistle (above) is as good an example of vibrant colour and a prickly disposition as any! This is a plant that usually favours quite dry and warm conditions and has always been very localized in the Southern parts of the UK. However, I've begun to see it dotted around far more often of late and it appears to be significantly more widespread. It's certainly more prolific in the Cotswolds these days and appears to be extending its general range ever Northward. The main reason for this is probably down to our increasingly mild climate and is yet another one of many examples of plants either taking advantage of changing conditions or simply adapting to overcome!
White-Eye the Robin If you compare this photograph with the one of the Devon bird further down this page, you'll see exactly why I've given this little bird the name of "White-Eye"! His territory encompasses most of the gardens at the front of the houses in the Close where I live and he and his mate, "Ruby", are frequent visitors to the feeders that I place amongst the trees and bushes on my front lawn. White-Eye is neither as strong nor as aggressive as "Upitty Bill", who totally dominates the line of back gardens leading up to the edge of the woodlet situated to the rear of my house....He is however, a little bit smarter....For example, while appearing to tolerate Bill's occasional sortes to the front gardens via the side passage to my house, White-Eye never chooses to openly engage with his arch-rival....instead, he immediately flies to the rear of my house to investigate the greater variety of bird-feeders situated there and then flies back again when either Bill returns or Bill's mate, "Stroppy Madam", challenges him! This little performance happens almost every single time and I'm inclined to believe that White-Eye actually looks forward to Bill's next invasion!
White-Eye's Little Girl This picture was taken just a few frames after the one of White-Eye above and depicts his little girl, "Blink". I call her that because she appears to have a nervous "tick" which manifests itself mostly in the form of a continuous blinking of the eyes and is something I've not seen before in a bird, though I do remember a similar thing occuring with an over-affectionate Pigmy Hippo that I looked after briefly many years ago (I guess I always could pull 'em)! Juvenile Robins do usually have a fairly strong hint of an eye-ring, but this little lady looks as though she may well have inherited more than a hint of her Dad's unusually diagnostic feature! Oh....and before all you experts out there decide to e-mail me with either your usual objections to my shameful anthropomorphisationalism of birds and stuff or to tell me that there's no obvious outward difference between male and female Robins (or that there's no such word as anthropo....wotsitthingy)....I just KNOW that this is a little female....from everything about her....from the way she behaves with her parents (especially Dad), to the way she behaves generally....and I'm sorry if that's not in any of your books....but ya-boo sucks!
Red-Hot Lily Lillies were amongst my Mother's most favourite of flowers and she wrote several poems about them during her life. She loved their scent and their shape and the way they would root in the shade, but strive to flower in the sunlight. Living out her final years alone in a small, one-bedroom, ground-floor flat in Tewkesbury, she still managed to grow several types of Lily, including Magic Pink, Red Night and Enchantment, in tubs on her tiny garden patio.
Please Note.... Three new and very badly drawn cartoons have been added to "Ranger Don's Fully Illustrated Country-side Survival Guide" in the past couple of days!
Comma Butterfly One of the most instantly recognizable of the British Butterflies with its "nibbled" wings effect and the distinctive white "comma" shape on the underside of the left wing (it appears as more of a "c" shape on the underside of the right wing). More pictures of this species can be found on www.wildliferanger.co.uk
Five-Spot Burnet on Spear Thistle The lack of an extra red spot on its fore-wing distinguishes this pretty little Moth from the slightly more common Six-spot Burnet. I noticed it sheltering amidst the flower-heads of a Spear Thistle during a heavy downpour of rain early in July....though without a great deal of success by the look of it! The most interesting thing about all species of Burnet Moths is that they contain cyanide, making them quite poisonous to most species of animal (hence their warning colours)....although I do have a photograph in my archives of a Pied Flycatcher with a Six-Spot Burnet in its beak and about to feed its young at a nest-box!
Dark Mullein and Caterpillar I was really pleased to discover several spikes of Dark Mullein growing on a grassy bank in the Cotswolds. This increasingly scarce plant with its purply-haired filaments, is most easily found in the South of the UK, but becomes much more difficult to find the further North you travel. The leaves are soft, like felt, and this gave rise to its name from both the French molien and the Latin mollis, meaning "soft". Herbal potions made from the leaves were once widely believed to relieve chest complaints, ranging from coughing fits to the bringing up of blood! Meanwhile, all of the Mulleins are poisonous to livestock, but are also foul-tasting and generally avoided by most sensible animals. As for the Caterpillar shown in the above picture....at first glance, I thought it was that of a Large White, but it's far too big. Then I thought it might be some sort of Hawkmoth, but it's not depicted in any of my books. Now I'm stuck! Once again, Nobby (aka "Lofty") has come to my rescue by phoning me to say that this is the caterpillar of the Mullein Moth and that I should have realized exactly what it was from the plant it's on and had I considered taking up a new career! I said that I can't know everything and he replied that maybe knowing something would be a good place to start! He also says that this is a very good example of Nature bluffing itself....this caterpillar is very brightly coloured which suggests that it warns potential predators that it is foul-tasting. However, the adult Mullein Moth is one of the most effectively camouflaged of all creatures which tends to imply that it isn't foul-tasting at all! A former Royal Marine, Nobby is today considered to be one of the world's leading authorities on camouflage and has made his fortune from both writing about it and advising a host of military agencies around the world. Typically for him perhaps, while so-called entomological experts and academics continued for years to argue the toss concerning, not only the Mullein Moth/Caterpillar taste issue, but other, similar cases concerning taste and camouflage in insects, he decided to settle the matter once and for all by actually tasting several of the more contentious examples himself....and he assures me that the Mullein Caterpillar is NOT foul-tasting at all and that its colour is most definitely a bluff! He also says that its taste is not dissimilar to that of a blended raw beefburger....which isn't much help to me because I've been vegetarian since I was kid and have never eaten a beefburger...raw or otherwise! Anyhoo, thanks once again "Dr." Nobby for all your help....Oh yes, it's a little known fact that he's got more letters after his name than he actually has in it (and his real name is quite long), but he hates being called anything other than Nobby....even his business/ID card says quite simply
"Nobby" UK National Ranger Bugs and Stuff
Er.... Due to the fact that the back page of this site is now full, the "General Diary Stuff" entries are now appearing on the "Red, Pink and Orange" page!
Stonechat I came across this little male Stonechat singing his heart out to the world from atop the highest twig he could find. Close to the coastal footpath on the cliffs above Gorran Haven, he was making the most of the sunshine peeking through the clouds during a few moments of respite between heavy rain showers.
"Ravens, Stoats and Fulmars" (Seven Days in Cornwall) on the "Black and White" page
Wood Mouse For almost a week now, someone or something has been nibbling holes in the bag of dried dog food we keep in the garage and helping themselves. Having already eliminated both my daughter and Sam, the dog, from my list of suspects (after all, I feed them nearly every day), I suddenly spotted the culprit earlier this morning as he sat in the garage entrance, peering round the corner to watch my wife mow the lawn! Not normal behaviour for any Mouse, let alone a Wood Mouse I hear you say, but I could understand his fascination, if only because it's something that I enjoy doing myself....after all, I believe it's important that she gets out of the house and into the fresh air as much as possible! Anyhoo, I nipped back into the kitchen to get my camera and returned just in time to take this shot before he realized that I was there! By Lunchtime I'd managed to trap the cheeky little fur-ball in one of my own design humane traps and then I took him off to a location miles from the nearest human habitation to release him back into the wild. He'll have to take his chances now, but it could have been worse if he'd decided to take up residence in someone else's house!
Yellow Fungus I've seen this strange-looking Fungus a few times over the years, though only ever in its more traditional Bracket Fungus form of an overlapping shelf arrangement on dead wood and not just as a "blob" on a living tree! I believe it's called Laetiporous sulphurous and is generally regarded as edible. It's also supposed to taste like, wait for it....chicken (hence its more colloquial name of "Chicken-in-the-Woods")! I've never tried it however and I'd have certain reservations about eating a parasitic specimen like this one, rather than a saprophytic version growing on dead wood! This one was clinging to the Northern side of the trunk of a very large and living Conifer in Chedworth Woods not far from the wonderfully preserved, eighteen hundred year-old Anglo/Romano Villa. There's a second shot of this "Fungus from another planet" on the "Yellow" page of this website.
Prolonged Showers with Occasional Sunny Periods Throughout the Day.... Getting soaked two or thee times a day in the middle of May isn't quite as uncomfortable as getting drenched in the middle of January!
Marsh Thistle Taken in the first half of May at Dowdeswell Reservoir, this fabulous Marsh Thistle was flowering about two months early! It's not often that I like my own photographs, but I am drawn to the almost painterly quality of this particular effort which, I'm certain, is far more to do with luck and the vibrancy of the flower itself rather than any technical ability on my part! (An illustrated account of my day in Dowdeswell woods can be found on the "General Diary Stuff" page).
Common Blue Damselfly I'm opting for the above photograph being of a Common Blue Damselfly rather than an Azure (Coenagrion) Damselfly, if only because I think that I can just about detect the black "ball on a stalk" marking on the second abdominal segment. The Azure (below) tends to sport more of a black U-shaped, boy-racer, go-faster, decal-type marking! On the other hand, I'm probably wrong on both counts!
Four-Spotted Chaser The exquisite beauty and breath-taking complexity of many of our UK insect species just beggars belief sometimes....This Four-Spotted Chaser (a type of Dragonfly) landed out of nowhere right on the ground next to me beside a reservoir in Oxfordshire today (5th May). Just look at the detail in those impossible wings....unbelievable! There'll be another shot of this quite large "wee timorous beastie" on the "Diary" page later, together with a shot of a May-Bug that landed in my Daughter's hair last night (therapy was urgently required for the poor thing....and my Daughter wasn't too happy either!) and the biggest (and most er....pregnantist) Common House Spider that I've seen in many a year!
Male Grey Wagtail No, this isn't the same Grey Wagtail as the one shown on the "Home" page of www.wildliferanger.co.uk. It is in fact, one of a pair of Greys who have built their nest alongside the Old Mill in Lower Slaughter. For more pictures, see the diary entry for the 1st May on the "General Diary Stuff" page.
Garden Escape These glorious specimens (like a cross between Leopard's Bane and a Shasta Daisy) have to be as good an example of garden escapes as you'll be likely to find anywhere. Growing just inside the boundary hedge of a field only half a mile outside the village of Stokenham, South Devon, I only spotted them because I'd heard the soft whistle of a Redstart coming from the field-side of the hedge and had left the lane to go and have a look. I saw five Redstarts while in Devon by the way....all newly arrived from wintering in Africa and only the whistler was male. Oddly perhaps, I have only ever seen female Redstarts first as they arrive in the UK in Spring.
"Spring in Devon" on the "Survival Guide to the Country-side" page
Home-Maker This hard-working hen Great Tit is one of the pair now occupying the nest-box cavity in the roof of the larger bird-table at the top of my garden (see the 15th April entry on the "General Diary Stuff" page).
Peacock Butterfly Peacock Butterflies enjoy two basically separate flight periods....mid to late Summer and, as with this little sunbather I photographed on 6th April near Syreford, early to mid Spring.
Primula Pink Redefining the word "vibrant" is about all I can say of this beautiful Primula growing in the church-yard at Great Whitcomb.
Little Egret Nice to get an up-close half-decent shot of a Little Egret! Notice that this bird has grey lores. There are quite a few around with yellow lores all of a sudden (see the "Coastal" page of www.wildliferanger.co.uk).
Global What? I may have mentioned it on the Home Page of www.wildliferanger.co.uk , but It's still strange how often I seem to be getting rained or snowed on considering all the so=called global-warming-related droughts we're supposed to be having just lately!
Common Comfrey....is it May already? Global-warming or some kind of long-term climate-cycle operating beyond the reach of written records....who can say for certain? All I know for sure is that Nature is in a real muddle and things are changing faster than ever before! Meanwhile, we suddenly have an entire flock of previously near-sighted politicians desperately competing with each other across the political divide to promote the advantages (mostly to themselves) of going "green"!
Yet I can't help but ask why it has taken more than twenty years for them to finally get the message? I suppose it's their own fault really, for listening to all those partisan, conglomerate-salaried scientists and "experts" telling them that there's absolutely nothing to worry about! Now it will probably be too little too late....and then there's China's hyper-rapid industrial and economic growth to worry about....and Asia's too!
Ironically, all that our venerable leaders ever really needed to do was glance out of a window every now and again to witness first-hand any of a thousand, subtle little changes taking place throughout the Natural World. They could so easily have seen for themselves, the multitude of clues provided by countless plants and animals as they are increasingly forced to adapt to overcome in such a rapidly changing environment (the amazingly early Common Comfrey flowers pictured above are just today's case in point)!
Sunlight Through Leaf
White Dead-Nettle Actually a member of the Mint family, the non-stinging White Dead-Nettle usually produces its first nectar-rich flowers in March. These are extremely important food sources for those insects up and about fairly early in the year....except, I took this photo in mid-February!
Redwing With His Berried Treasure
Crocus I liked the way that the veins on the petals of this little gem seemed to continue down into its stem while the white-stripe grass surrounding it added that extra bit of class. Where was it growing I hear you ask....behind a rubbish skip!
"For goodness sake" I hear you say "WHY set up yet another ranger site? Surely one's more than enough!" Well, basically, I've pretty much filled www.wildliferanger.co.uk to bursting and when I try to add more stuff in one place, other bits tend to fall out somewhere else....the story of my life really! I shall continue to upload new stuff to the older site, but I don't actually think that this type of website design was ever really meant to host such vast amounts of content and it's a credit to the mysterious and shadowy figures of the technical department hidden deep in the cellars of Netbenefit's luxurious offices (and who must surely work non-stop for weeks at a time, probably without sleep or sustenance), for making it all possible!
"Smiley Stan the Snowflake Man" Well, five centimetres of snow and, predictably, the UK has ground to a galloping standstill....traffic unable to move, aircraft grounded, schools closed! It's just not fair, if schools had closed because of snow when I was a kid in the 1950s and 60s, we'd have stayed at home from December to March every year....typical!
Meanwhile, give my daughter two minutes, three twigs, a couple of seed grains and a bunch of snow and she'll give you "Happy Stan the Snowflake Man", only a foot tall, but with loads of personality! Sadly, a Chaffinch stole his eyes and belly-button!
Stonechat This picture harks back to the summer of 2006, to a day when I was scrutinized very carefully by this diligent little bird for the entire time it took me to eat my lunch!
Blue Tit Enjoying a rare respite from the hectic demands of having to eat practically your own weight in whatever you can get your beak into every day just to get through the cold, winter nights!
Fence I don't like photographic tricks or using special filters (I don't have any filters anyway) and although other people can often achieve quite incredible results, I also believe that, for me, when it comes to the Natural World, too much tampering makes the whole thing pointless....a bit like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa! All my photos, including this shot, show the subjects exactly as they were at the time the pictures were taken.
Juvenile Mistle Thrush
Some old Coot
Grey Heron I crept to within five metres of laddy here and used my pocket camera to take these shots. A bit grainy, but I was pleased to get anything at all really! I think there's a touch of the absent-minded professor about him and all he needs is a pair of pince-nez maybe to complete the picture! (Is that how you spell pince-nez?)
Fieldfare and Redwing These Scandinavian cousins arrive in the UK in their hundreds of thousands every winter and it already looks to me as though this winter, in the Cotswolds at least, we're already seeing them in record numbers!
Leah, my dog, full of festive cheer on Christmas morning! She is in fact, sulking because I only gave her and Sam (our other dog....featured on the "Brown Page) a couple of chew sticks from the enormous bagful I bought them for Christmas! The decoration, by the way, only looks as though it's stuck to the top of her head....it's actually attached to her collar!
Santa and Co. Ok, so I guess this little group has seen better days, but I love these garden assemblages....They're complete works of art! I also happen to know that huge amounts of effort goes into their construction and that they are often as much a part of the local community as the people who created them! This Santa and Reindeer group (note Rudolph) were in the garden of a house in Millendreth, near Looe, Cornwall.
This Fowl so fair of face has possibly one of the most interesting profiles I've ever seen....except for maybe Sid James!
Steve "Emu" McQueen Like his screen-icon namesake, heroic Steve (pictured above) feels duty-bound to escape from his enclosure at any and every opportunity, but he too never quite manages to leap the final stretch of barbed-wire astride his 250cc motorbike and so we always catch him in the end!
Guess who had a bag of chips and guess who didn't get any!
Snipe Fly on Sun Spurge The Snipe Fly loves nothing more than to sunbathe on plants like Sun Spurge, but it also has the sometimes startling habit of appearing to sense that you are there and suddenly flying straight at you! For that reason, I think it would be more suitably named the Sniper Fly!
Cow Parsley and Red Campion
Early April and a Hint of Sunshine with Milder Weather in the Forest
The Joy of Snow Above....There are times (all too frequent it seems) when Tess fills up with so much happiness that she turns into Captain Cuckoo Bananas and has an irrepressible nutty flip!
Below...."I love snow. I Love it! Love it! Love it! Then, at the end of the day, I come home for tea and doze in front of the fire and dream of tracking Rabbits....and Foxes....and Badgers....and Otters....and Peewits....and Pheasants....and....and....Zzzzzzz....".
Above and Below....Multi-Tasking On any single day, Tess and I will be pursuing any number of separate (though not necessarily unconnected) tasks. Here, for example, Tess immerses herself in her constant scenting activities, alerting me the moment she comes across anything that she learnt long ago, will be of interest to me, but especially with regard to signs of Otter, Water Vole, Mink, Badger, Fox, Deer, Wild Boar, etc. Meanwhile, I'm keeping my one good eye open for any other kind of track-sign or things of general (or specific) interest and the other (the glass one) open for Mute Swans (at least at this time of the winter because it's something I always need to spend extra time on during the first few weeks of the New Year).
I count them, the Swans that is and note their spoor-sign. In fact, I count and record as many of them (and it) as I can locate across six counties (I know where most Swans will be approximately anyway....so they don't usually take an awful lot of finding) and I make notes as I go....Lots and lots of notes and I take pictures....Lots of pictures and I make various hieroglyphics and assorted squiggles on maps and cover many miles....Lots of maps and many, many miles and then I write reports in the evenings....Lots of bl**dy reports on lots of evenings!
Tess's Famed Ability to Work Harmoniously Amongst All Kinds of Wildlife and Farm Livestock is Widely Admired ....but it's not just about the training with Tess (which has been long and intensive in that respect). She also seems to have an entirely natural, non-threatening disposition towards just about any other creature she encounters (except for most men, especially those sporting hats or wielding walking poles or sticks). The animals meanwhile, seem to pick up on Tess's mysterious 'vibe' almost immediately, It's as if Swans, for example, know instinctively that this is one dog that will never chase them, bark at them or attempt to harm them and respond accordingly.
By way of illustration, the pair of 'cooling' cob Swans pictured above with Tess, had hurtled half way across the lake in that all too familiar way that Muties have when they see a dog (any dog) 'trespassing 'along their water margins, but as soon as they came to within a few metres of her, they seemed to sense that she was of absolutely no threat to them, stopping abruptly to simply watch her for a minute or two (with wings still slightly raised in 'warning' mode) before carrying on about their business as usual.
Needless to say, I'm less inclined to allow Tess to come into contact with mated pairs of Swans who have youngsters in tow or who might be defending a nest site, but, even then, there have been occasions when Tess, working well ahead of me, has rounded a bend in a river or disappeared amongst reeds along a lakeshore and abruptly come face to face with a pair of breeding Cygnus olor. Yet, after the inevitable spell of aggressive wing-flexing and hissing by the startled birds, they clearly appear to take stock of the situation, decide very quickly that Tess is not a threat and settle down again. By which time anyway, I have usually caught up with her and called her away just to be on the safe side and to avoid the risk of stressing the birds any further.
"Task Completed. Nothing to Report. Permission to proceed Sir!"
Searching for Wild Boar Sign in the Forest On this occasion, Tess is combining two very different scenting techniques....Ground-scenting (see above) in ever-expanding spiral patterns around a central point (usually me), but if no spoor is detected out to about fifty metres, she returns to me to begin focussing on an air-scenting-orientated strategy for about a hundred metres across the face of the wind while constantly taking advantage of both higher (see below) and lower vantage points. If she has still failed to pick up a scent by this time, then we may repeat the entire process all over again several times from a new central position each time....ie, outward spiral ground-scenting to fifty metres followed by line-of-sight 'face of wind' air-scenting for one hundred metres. Eventually, difficulties concerning terrain and/or obstructions such as fences, cliff faces, marshy areas, dangerous rivers, etc will cause us to turn 90 degrees into the wind, advance fifty metres and then continue as before (if either possible or desirable) or work back parallel to our previous line-of-sight direction.
Naturally, the moment Tess picks up a scent trail or I spot any reasonably fresh, tell-tale 'physical' spoor-sign, such as tracks, scat, feeding sites, etc, we focus all our energies on that and proceed accordingly, but if nothing comes of it (as is often the case for any of a multitude of reasons), we simply return to where we first encountered the sign and carry on with the normal search strategies.
It's worth noting that there are any number of search patterns and procedures that may be employed according to a wide range of demands....
....The time of day. For example, night-time tracking and trailing usually calls for a completely different skill-set (not to mention mind-set) for both dog and handler, not simply because safety is always a factor, but also because there are plenty of handlers (and dogs) out there who just don't like working in the dark....
....The time of year is an obvious factor, usually resulting in a wide range of differing weather conditions. Excessive rain, sleet, snow, wind and heat can all adversely affect a dog team's ability to scent and track to a considerable degree....
....Type and difficulty of terrain....From forest to flood-plane or from moorland to mountain, Mother Nature loves to mess you about....
....Or whether you are working individually as a specialist tracker team (as Tess and I always have simply because of the demands of the unique nature of the work we do) or as part of a centrally co-ordinated, multiple team-orientated SAR task-force trained specifically to cope with the likes of avalanche and earthquake disasters or missing persons scenarios....
....The nature, physical condition and psychological disposition of the objective/quarry/target/victim/missing person/escaped felon/etc. There is a world of difference between tracking and trailing a healthy (and non-threatened) 'sounder' of Wild Boar simply to take photographs and/or add data to your on-going forest biodiversity survey thingummy and the process of tracking an old, grizzled, 200lb+, pain-enraged, male Boar complete with a crossbow quarrel buried deep in its flank so that you can despatch it as quickly and humanely as possible simply because the uncaring moron who hunted it illegally in the first place, didn't bother to bring a fully-trained blood-trailing dog so that he could do the job properly himself! There's also a world of difference in tracking an enemy soldier or dangerous escaped felon who's doing his or her absolute best to lose you....or confuse and deceive you....or to just double back around and ambush you and searching for an avalanche victim buried under twenty feet of compacted snow or a child trapped in the rubble of what had once been their home until the earthquake struck!
All of these things require widely differing skill-sets for both the handler and his or her dog, but every one of them requires each dog team involved to have been trained to the nth degree. Dogs and their handlers will have learnt a patience with and an understanding of each others' strengths and weaknesses in each and every specific application of those skills that will be, quite frankly, second to none. They will have developed an infinitely practised ability to pay attention to the smallest and most insignificant-seeming of details under the most gruelling and demanding of circumstances and, above all, they will have learned long ago, through both their preparation and training and their actual boots and paws on the ground experience, to trust absolutely each others' profoundest instincts.
Ad hoc Jacuzzi Tess does this sometimes when the mood takes her. She seems to enjoy the sensation of the cascading water as it passes around and underneath her. Summer or winter, she'll stay like it for minutes at a time.
Rock Pool Will there ever be anything more absorbing to man, woman, child or dog than spending an hour or two on the beach exploring rock pools?
Above and Below....In the Cool of the Forest The final week of May is turning out to be pleasantly warm and sunny, perfect weather for working in the dappled sunlight and shade of the woods and forests where overheating is rarely a problem....Especially if you have to wear a fur coat all day long.
Sadly however, our main reason for being there on this particular occasion was the alarming number of wild bird's eggs seemingly pilfered by idiots with some kind of a grudge against wildlife and who, using an old old gamekeeper's trick, have been injecting each pilfered egg with a small (but lethal) quantity of strychnine and secreting them here, there and everywhere (though often close to Fox earths, Badger Sets, Squirrel dreys, etc), presumably in the hopes of poisoning something....anything! I say 'anything' because a bird's egg represents an attractive and often irresistible, ready-made meal for a whole host of predatory species, including birds, such as Corvids and Buzzards, reptiles, including Adders and Grass Snakes, Mustelids, such as said Badgers as well as Otters, Stoats and Weasels, felines, including both feral and domestic Cats and canids, such as Foxes and, of course, a great many pet Dogs out for a simple walk in the woods with their owners.
All poisons are horrible, but strychnine is particularly so, causing the stricken animal to endure excruciating pain as the nervous system reacts in a particularly violent way, causing terrible stomach cramps, uncontrollable vomiting and fit-inducing muscle spasms.
You see, my idea of a suitable punishment for these morons when we catch them, would be to force them to swallow a quarter of a teaspoonful of 0.5% diluted strychnine themselves....Probably not enough to kill them outright, but more than enough to....well, you get the idea!
As for Tess, don't worry. Despite being a food-loving Labrador, she's been trained to eat absolutely nothing whatsoever unless it's given to her either by my wife, my son, my daughter or myself and no-one else.
Trees Have Flowers Too
A View Across One Corner of My Little 'Nature Reserve'
Colt's Foot A cheery little sunshine of a spring flower.
A Beautifully Cold, Crisp and Sunny February Day ....and a perfect opportunity to get in a good twenty miler around the shores of half a dozen ice-covered lakes and along the banks of a Cotswold river or two.
Stile Guru It's that long-suffering look she often gives me because I'm not nearly as agile as her when it comes to clambering over the many stiles we encounter every day.
Pet Shop Ploys For those who might be interested, I still do my regular, "unofficial" rounds of the pet shops across half a dozen counties, frequently drawing the owner's attention to anything that I think might be detrimental to the health and welfare of the animals in their charge....Such is my continuing arrogance.
Bee Magnet My wife says that this is called Salvia and we have a small clump of it growing in the garden. She said that Bees would love it and that's why I planted it in the first place....She was right. Bees seem to head straight for it.
Skipper Photograph of the first Skipper I've seen in 2010. Taken on the 7th June in Herefordshire.
Mayfly One of the Crawlers....I think.
Lacewing Quite large, but not a species of Lacewing I'm familiar with. Plus, the slightly elongated prothorax makes me wonder if perhaps it's an Osmylid of some sort.
On the Cusp of Summer
Sweet Smelling Scented Mayweed Mingles with a Crop of Linseed
"Robina" One of three surviving youngsters hatched by White-Eye and White-Wing the Robins earlier this Spring. I took this picture yesterday (22nd May) after I'd watched her hopping about the garden chasing insects. Amazingly, she didn't take the slightest bit of notice of either me or Tess as we sat in the shade, often coming right up to us to take the digestive biscuit crumbs that I threw down for her....The ones not pounced upon by Tess that is. The photo actually shows her sunbathing on the lawn barely a metre from us!
She's obviously a bit of a character and has become tame extraordinarily quickly. She was with us again today and almost, but not quite flew to my hand. I decided to name her Robina by the way, for the simple reason that my wife was planting some flowers called Robinas in the garden at the exact moment she first hopped up to us (the Robin that is, not my wife).
Ranunculous Thingy ....the one at the edge of our wildlife pond.
Another from the Garden....
A Week at Hartland Point (Late April, 2010)
A Sunny Day in Dymock Woods A few consecutive days of warm Spring sunshine and the countryside is literally transformed as if by magic....Volcanic ash cloud or no volcanic ash cloud.
Meanwhile, Maddy has returned from holidaying in North Devon with her parents, apparently having frog-marched them up and down the Tarka Trail as well as back and forth across the wide open spaces of beautiful Exmoor for the best pert of two weeks. Well, with that in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to force her to slow down a bit by suggesting that she spend an entire day creeping and crawling around Dymock Woods with Tess and me. After all, a sizeable woodland is one of the absolute best places to explore as Spring gets itself into gear, if only because there's so much to see if you know exactly how, where and when to look.
Wood Ants Seem Prepared to Venture High Into the Branches of Almost Any Species of Tree as They Seek the Nectar Produced by Its Flowers. I especially wanted to introduce Maddy to the psychotically aggressive and very large (about 1cm long) Wood Ant. However, I didn't expect them to be so abundant as to be almost everywhere....Gazillions of them! They seemed to cover the entire woodland floor at times and literally swarmed all over the sunlit woodland paths. However, it was Tess who was the first to learn just how extraordinarily vicious they can be....which was basically, every time she made the mistake of standing in one place for too long!
Maddy, on the other hand, was totally fascinated by them....especially when I showed her just how capable they were of defending themselves by the simple act of bringing their abdomens into a forward-facing position and squirting formic acid at us the moment they "smelt" our presence. In fact, I produced a small sheet of litmus paper from my pocket for the ants to target and to demonstrate approximately how far a squirt of acid could travel (about 10cm on average) and when I used the litmus paper to get large groups of them all riled up, tiny splodges of colour-change began appearing on it almost immediately.
Red Ant Larvae It sometimes seems to me that I've spent half my life turning over various rocks and logs to see what might be lurking underneath....and this time I discovered about a hundred or so tiny Red Ant Larvae plus a bunch of attendant nursery ants. Now, I've found such ant-related things before, but this time, I had the presence of mind to immediately begin counting the number of seconds it took for the frantic "nannies" to remove each and every wriggling larvae away from the daylight and into a place of relative safety underground....Twenty-three!
All things considered, it comes as no surprise to me when they say that Ants will still be around on this planet tens of millions of years after we humans have finally succeeded in making ourselves extinct....Not to mention the equally durable Cockroach family who will almost certainly survive as well....and Rats too I expect....Oh....and politicians of course!
Astute Judges of Character For the most part, horses are quite astute animals where people are concerned and tend not to suffer fools gladly. If they don't like you, then they'll either have nothing at all to do with you or simply give you a painful nip at the outset just to let you know that they're completely aware of how much of a pr*t you are! In fact, they're a bit like the elephants I used to work with so very long ago in that respect....except good old Jumbo was a bit more stampy with his footsies or thwacky with his trunky than bitey with his teethies!
Lesser Celandine in the First Light of Dawn There's something not quite right when these early Spring beauties appear before the Daffodils, especially when you consider that even the countless acres of Daffs grown in Cornwall specifically for the Mother's Day market have failed to be ready in time for the big day, but then, I can't say I have a lot of sympathy for the Cornish Daffodil trade, if only because in the late 1980s, the South-West Water Authority discovered such extraordinarily high levels of organo-chemicals in one of the main rivers that they were obliged to put up warning notices to protect anglers.
The chemicals had managed to find their way into the river from nearby daffodil fields where the growers had been using them unlawfully for years in huge quantities. Extremely poisonous, they eventually worked their way up the food chain, ultimately poisoning every Otter that chanced to feed there.
When two Cornwall Wildlife Trust members, Vic Simpson and Nick Tregenza, became aware of this, they alerted a national newspaper which immediately ran with the headline, "Give your Mother chocolates instead of daffodils on Mother's Day" and within twenty-four hours the offending product had been completely withdrawn from use.
It has taken more than twenty years however, for the Otter to show even minimal signs of recovery in Cornwall and all because, apparently, the lady doesn't love Milk Tray as much as she loves receiving forced flowers that are practically dead anyway from the moment they're purchased!
Tess....Impressing in Herefordshire
Milkflowers in Full Bloom and Soaking Up the Currently Abundant Spring Sunshine (15th March, 2010)
On the Outskirts of Eastleach....The Place of Daffodils Situated along the banks of the River Leach, the pretty Cotswold village of Eastleach is internationally renowned for its annual display of golden Daffodils. At the moment (12th March) however, there's not a single Daffodil to be seen, though the current showing of Snowdrops and wild Tansy around and about the place is a delight.
In a week or two when the Daffodils have finally decided to make an appearance, I shall take my wife there to see them as I do every year and then we'll walk for miles across the surrounding hills with Tess.
Eastleach is a tad unusual in that it boasts two very pretty little stone churches situated on opposite sides of the road and river to each other....St Andrew retains many original Norman features particularly with regards to the porch and doorway, while the saddle-back tower was added in the 13th or 14thcentury. The base of a 14th century cross stands in the churchyard and the shaft of the lectern came from Tewkesbury Abbey, having come into the possession of a parishioner at some point who used it for many years as a parrot stand. On the demise of the bird however, she decided to return it to its original purpose (the stand that is, not the parrot).
Across the River Leach sits the Church of St Michael and St Martin (also known as Bouthrop Church). It too has Norman origins, while John Keble (He of Keble College Oxford fame) began his ministry as curate there. I believe that, although Bouthrop church is now unused, it is still maintained by The Churches Conservation Trust.
Church of St Michael and St Martin (Bouthrop Church), Eastleach
Church of St Andrew, Eastleach
Into the Gap
Four More for Spring....Crocus This and the three pictures below are all of flowers that have suddenly burst forth in my garden during the last two days of "in like a lamb" sunshine (1st and 2nd March). We'd normally have seen them at least a couple of weeks ago, but all the bad weather of late has held them back. In fact, I've mentioned to several people recently, most of whom have tended to edge slowly away from me at the time, that I could sense an almost tangible tension building up in the landscape as new life strained against Nature's own forces....Probably much the same as I'm made to feel when forced to watch the X-Factor!
....and No Idea!
Late Spring Version of the Winter Shot Below
Otters Keeping Me Sane in a World Gone Mad While the rest of the world obsesses over the trials and tribulations of one so-called celebrity couple, Tess and I continue to map the comings and goings of good old Lutra lutra across five different counties.
I'm sorry, but I don't give a welly-full of dog cr*p about Cheryl and Ashley and I really don't care if the man thinks monogamy is something you make dining-room furniture out of or even if he has to change his bathroom mirror every other day because he covers it in love-bites....Nor will I be losing any sleep in the coming weeks over who gets custody of the ego! In fact, stuff like that irritates the proverbial wotsit out of me to such an extent that I seriously doubt my own sanity sometimes....or is it simply that the rest of humanity has completely lost its grip on what really matters in the world?
Anyway, I'll be adding a few more Otter survey pictures like the ones above and below to both websites in due course.
Secret Places....A Disused Railway Cutting Old, disused railway lines are, more often than not, wonderful havens for many kinds of wildlife, but it's the behaviour of the unusually large numbers of Roe Deer that choose to gather along this particular section of cutting throughout the winter months that makes the place especially interesting to me.
Delicate I find things to fascinate everywhere I look and I can understand what they mean when they say God is in the details.
Out of the Way Places Maddy has had five all-day outings with Tess and me now with a big emphasis on Woodlands and water margins. She's worked alongside Tess searching for Otter sign, watched Water Voles feeding on reed stems, recorded whistling Wigeon for her own research purposes, photographed Goldeneye and Smew, hand-fed a Muntjac Deer and acted as a casualty for Tess to find in improvised SAR exercises. I think she enjoys just about whatever she does with us, if only because she's begun investing a fair bit of her own money in buying bits and pieces of equipment that she thinks she'll find useful when we're out and about. She also enjoys the fact that I put her under a fair bit of pressure at times and expect her to make important independent decisions, but like I said elsewhere, she's quite tough and good at thinking on her feet.
Waiting, but Alert
Setting Off as the Sun Sets
Just Over Sixteen Months Old, but Looking So Grown Up These Days
Festive Holly For all you Robin enthusiasts out there, here's another shot of the increasingly tame "Holly" who I've already featured on the "Home" page of www.wildliferanger.co.uk but since the Robin is supposed to be our national bird, it's only right that I put lots of pictures of them on my sites.
This Little Piggy.... I encourage Tess to come into controlled contact with as many kinds of farm animals as possible, as it's vital that she behaves appropriately amongst and around them at all times, whatever breed or species they may happen to be. Mind you, less than half an hour before I took this photograph we'd both been chased out of a field by a very irate hunter standing at around seventeen hands if he was an inch....hunter horse that is, not hunter human.
Meanwhile, I'm a particular fan of pigs. They're incredibly intelligent and would doubtless have been yet another contender for the world's most dominant species if it weren't for the fact that they lack anything even remotely resembling opposable thumbs. It was also an encounter with several hundred pigs in parked lorries waiting to be slaughtered outside an abattoir for an entire weekend at the height of summer without any food or water when I was a boy that ultimately led to my becoming vegetarian aged eleven. It also led to me being taken home to my parents by the police after I was spotted trespassing on the abattoir grounds whilst attempting to give the pigs water I'd obtained from a nearby tap in a rusty old metal bucket. You see, the clever pigs knew exactly what was happening to them and their desperate cries still haunt me to this day!
I have never tried to dictate to other members of my family as to what they should or should not eat and they make their own choices. However, I freely admit to putting my foot down with a firm hand when it comes to allowing any kind of pig products or any battery-farmed chicken into the house! Incidentally, be aware of supermarkets claiming to sell so-called free-range chicken or free-range eggs, if only because the commercial definition of "free-range" can include indoor, concrete-floored pens no more that a couple of metres square and enclosing as many as two dozen birds!
Mark, Macca, Sean, Beth and Jenny are all vegetarians as well as me and between us we've amassed a vast collection of assorted photographs (some quite graphic) over the years and depicting a wide variety of domestic animals being housed in what we feel are quite unacceptable conditions, but which are, nonetheless, being kept quite legally as far as the law is concerned. In addition, I also extend my scrutinising activities to include countless pet shops right across the South-West of England and frequently make myself a thorn in the side of many a pet shop owner who I consider fails to house and feed the animals in his or her charge in appropriate conditions. I don't care who they are or what names they end up calling me ("arrogant, interfering w****r" being the most recent). Nor do I care how much they attempt to threaten me (something a few of them also choose to do from time to time). The problem is, I'm like a ferret after a coney when it comes to getting such people to see the error of their ways and it's yet another reason why the Boss is so keen to find a partner to work alongside me these days....if only to keep me out of trouble as well as watch my back! I am after all, the only ranger in our happy band who works almost entirely by himself, apart from James that is, but then he's technically part-time anyway and only really flies the helicopter.
It's funny, but I'm not sure how I'd react ultimately to having a full-time partner. It would be difficult I think, especially at first and it would almost certainly involve a fair degree of nurse-maiding on my part when you consider that the poor unsuspecting sod would probably be totally unfamiliar with much of the work we do. The Boss did his best to secure Kelly as my partner back when Macca got married and that would probably have been the most ideal solution, but Kelly has long-standing family and business commitments in New Zealand and had to return there. I think the idea appealed to him though, but then, he's even less tolerant of the kind of self-centred, cruel, ignorant, rude and increasingly anti-social scum-bags infesting society these days than me!
"Slipper? What slipper?"
"It's a (Dog's) Wonderful Life" on the "Blue and Purple" page
"I'm Sorry" "Please let me in....Please! I promise not to tear around the house with your one and only spare pair of underpants in my mouth any more....or steal cheese from the fridge....or paddle mud across the new carpet....or kick my water bowl over....or be sick under the bed....or on the bed....or pee with excitement whenever visitors come to call....or eat the mail....or any more of those things you call five pound notes....or scratch the kitchen door....or unravel your best jumper....or chew your favourite slippers....or bring dead things in from the garden....or spread the garbage equally from room to room....or lick my bottom in front of the vicar....and then lick the vicar....Honest! The thing is though, first my fleas kept me awake all last night having some kind of a....a....a flea party then my best ball got stuck under the settee and when the squeaky thing fell out of my plastic hamburger....well, that really was the last straw!"
"The Traveller" I've finally written a complete novel....A whole damn book called "The Traveller". I guess it's nothing more than a poor man's version (if only) of the outstanding "Waylander" series of books by the hugely popular and talented David Gemmell, but minus the sorcery-type stuff and with a bit of my own style of so-called humour added for seasoning. Anyway, I've put the first chapter on the "Survival Guide Thingy" page.
Please Note Due to overwhelming public demand....ie, Dave from next door said he'd be "fairly interested" to know what happens next (and there was me thinking all along that he couldn't even read), I feel vaguely compelled to add Chapter Two of "The Traveller" to the "Survival Guide" page in addition to Chapter One which is already on there. So I guess it serves you right!
Keeping it Good A new hair-style created out of what little has grown back so far (good for self-confidence), plus a new coat from me (good for keeping out the cold and the rain)....followed by a long walk on a wet, chilly November's day (good for the soul).
A Troop of Fairy Inkcap Maybe or Psathyrella conopilus Perhaps ....or neither probably because fungi are very often really tough to pin down when it comes to accurate identification. Much harder than birds or even wildflowers much of the time. However, note the blackened, slightly melted appearance of the caps....A typical characteristic of the Inkcap family.
Another Challenge There are similarities shown here to a number of different species, from False Chanterelle to Common Rustgill (it's neither by the way), but I remain uncertain for the time being.
There were about a dozen of them, each about the size of a muffin or slightly larger, growing in an open field close to a stream on the Rissington Mill Estate barely a mile from Bourton-on-the-Water. They looked to be fairly mature specimens.
Raw and Elemental Looking out beyond Cadgwith Cove on Cornwall's stunning Lizard Peninsular.
Turning We've been able to enjoy several beautiful, crisp, sunny days this October. Perfect days....not too warm. I really don't like hot, sticky, humid days, the kind you get in mid-summer, but I think that's more to do with the fact that they remind me, subconsciously, of those awful events that turned my life so completely upside-down during the long, hot summer of 1976. No, give me good old-fashioned autumnal weather any day of the week.
She'd have been thirty-five years old this year by the way and I'd probably have been a Granddad these past ten years or so. It's strange though, how the pain never seems to go away. It's always there....an aching deep inside, especially during the night. It's easier then to simply get up and find something to do rather than just lie there staring into the darkness, so I tend to read a lot. TV these days is such a bag of cr*p and getting worse, so I don't even bother trying to watch it, though I do enjoy my DVD collection of old, classic black and white films. Alternatively, I take Tess out for long walks across the hills on clear nights and we sit and stare at the stars (or at least I do, Tess usually finds something to chew, such as a stick, but she also seems to know that I want to be quiet and so just sits there by my side. She's a funny, sensitive little dog that way).
Anyway, I'm just being stupidly self-indulgent and that's never going to change anything. Must dash because the Autumn, like Spring, is a very busy time for us (rangers)....everything is on the move again.
Devil's-Bit Scabious (Above and Below) A boiled concoction derived from the root of Devil's-Bit Scabious has long been used as an effective curative for many types of ailments, from sore and swollen throats to infected wounds and from treating snake bites to relieving the suffering (and occasionally curing) plague victims. In fact, legend has it that the Devil was so infuriated by the medicinal effectiveness of this late-flowering species of Teasel that he pulled a plant from the earth and bit off most of its root....Hence its name and also the reason why it has such an abbreviated root system. Widespread across the UK and commonly found in many a marsh, fen, water-meadow or damp woodland, Devil's-Bit is a favoured food plant of several species of Butterfly and Moth caterpillars, including the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly and the Narrow-Bordered Bee Hawk Moth
View Towards Widemouth ....with Sandymouth in the far distance and Bude hidden behind the wind-sculpted tree. The thing is, I just happen to think that a great deal of the UK is still breathtakingly beautiful, which is why it's completely beyond me that the vast majority of the British people don't seem to give a Toad's todger about what happens to any of it!
Grayling When Tess first drew my attention to this little character, it was behaving exactly like any self-respecting Grayling Butterfly ought to behave....by settling on the ground and then lying on it's side so as to create a smaller shadow and make itself less obvious to passing predators (see below). However, the next thing I knew, it suddenly took off and flew around a bit before finally deciding to land on the tip of my finger! It was a warm, sunny afternoon in North Cornwall and I expect it was drawn to the sweat on my hand, but when I looked at it a little closer, it seemed quite unlike any Grayling I've ever seen....unless it's something like a Tree Grayling that's somehow managed to find it's way here from the Continent....and it did have a very striking pair of spots on the upper-side of each fore-wing.
On Bredon Hill Three full days of walking still doesn't provide enough time to cover all the nooks and crannies of Fred Archer's famous old hill, but Tess and I got most of it done in the end while taking hundreds of photographs along the way, filling an entire notebook with sketches and scribbles and even pausing occasionally to have a bite to eat and admire the view. The photos show Tess taking in the views herself, the one below being across towards Broadway Tower just visible in the bottom picture.
Pausing for a Well-Earned Rest
Tess' View from About Half-Way Up Bredon Hill across to Broadway Tower Just Visible Slightly Left of Centre.
The Opposite View from Broadway Tower Across to Bredon Hill I've put a little red circle to mark the spot where I took the photo above this one from. The line of bigger hills in the far distance by the way, are the Malverns.
"You Never Can Tell About Bees" (Winnie the Pooh)
Top of the Teasel to You
Crimson and Green
A Morning Graduation Ceremony and a Sight-seeing Afternoon in London on the "Blue and Purple" page
A Knave for a Lion
Time to Cool Off Just because it's a little bit warm at the moment (1st July, 2009), it doesn't mean that Tess and I can take a day off to relax around the pool. We still have to get out there and cover the miles on foot and so I make sure that Tess gets the chance to cool off at least a couple of times a day in any stream, river or lake we happen to come across. Besides, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Tess loves the water more than anything.
Meanwhile, on the subject of heat....D'you remember a time not so long ago when people just talked about how warm it was during a half-a*sed heatwave and not about the dangers of level three this and the threat to us all of level four that? It's all got a bit silly to my mind, especially when you consider how an elderly lady I met at the weekend had come to the UK from Florida where the temperature was a balmy 94 degrees F. It must have been like stepping off the plane into a cool-box as far as she was concerned!
She was here to attend the 50th wedding anniversary celebrations of a couple my wife and I have known for many years and who are the parents of another of her closest friends. I'd been invited along to take a few candid-type photographs plus some portrait and group shots of the family and friends invited to witness the reaffirmation of the couple's wedding vows during a small ceremony in Tewkesbury's beautiful 11th Century Abbey.
It was a nice day, the weather was very warm and sunny, the evening celebrations went really well, the photos turned out ok and, amazingly, nobody collapsed from heat-stroke!
Common Spotted Orchid It's the very distinct pattern of double loops and dots on the petal lobes and the fact it was growing in fairly chalky soil that makes me think this a Common Spotted rather than a Heath Spotted Orchid....Though I reluctantly admit that it might possibly be a Heath Spotted, which is what an elderly chap and his wife subsequently insisted it was after they stumbled across me lying in the wet grass in a woodland clearing in order to take this photograph. Anyway, I've got another shot of a very purply-white version of a Common Spotted somewhere (they do seem to vary in colour a lot from region to region) and I was going to put it alongside this one for comparison, but I can't seem to find it.
Green Nettle Weevil These little beetles are just under a centimetre long and are really black in colour, but covered in tiny greeny-blue scales that rub off fairly easily. You'll see them nearly always doing what comes comes naturally amongst the leaves of Common Nettle while the larvae tend to live in and feed on the roots of the same plant, which is good news for gardeners....for the most part.
Roe Buck Road Casualty Details were on the "Blue and Purple" page, but were mysteriously 'lost' along with masses of other diary stuff.
Cotswold Field in Yellow
"Mr Grumpy" At least seven years old (that's how long he's been visiting my garden), Mr Grumpy doesn't suffer fools gladly....particularly with regard to any of the resident, very vocal and extremely badly behaved Starling population. He's always prepared to put them in their place in no uncertain terms by putting on one of his impressive displays of aggression which usually involves turning his back, hunching his shoulders and spreading his wings to best show-off the black and white barring below the red on the nape of his neck....and I must say, it nearly always has the desired effect!
Above and Below....Westonbirt Arboretum in the Spring I've added a few photos on the "Black and White" page of my visit to Westonbirt Arboretum earlier this week (late May, 2009) with my wife and daughter and Tess of course. Westonbirt is perhaps most famous for its trees in Autumn as they gradually change colour in the most spectacular of fashions, but Springtime at Westonbirt has its own special fascination for me and every year I make the effort to visit. The Hairy Pea Spider and Tiger Beetle photos opposite are amongst two of a whole host of images I managed to acquire this time around.
Lamb I continue to walk Tess on a leash amongst livestock of all kinds on an almost daily basis and they continue to appear increasingly unphased by her. Even the youngest and potentially most unpredictable of them exhibit little more than a momentary mild curiosity at a dog who remains calm and restrained at all times.
Tess on the Hills Above Broadway Village in Worcestershire
Fledgling Blackbird Number Three I've already uploaded photographs of DT's first brood of fledglings on the "Home" page of the co.uk site. There were three youngsters altogether, but the other two have already succumbed to cats over the past couple of days. The above picture, therefore, shows the last of the trio. I sensed at the time that this was a little female who, I believe, had survived thus far by ensconcing herself in the log pile on the patio close to the back door. For the latest news and more pictures of her (plus one of her devoted dad), go to the "Diary" section of the "Blue and Purple" page on this site.
Bee Fly One of my all-time favourite insects, this highly industrious little fur-ball is one of Nature's great mimics as it goes about its daily business in the guise of a Bee. It looks like a Bee, moves and hovers like a Bee and even sounds like a Bee, hence its Latin name of Bombylius major. Meanwhile, its wings are never at rest (source of the continuous Bee-like buzzing noise they emit) and I've often thought how energy inefficient it must be to be using them like that all the time. Anyway, another particularly noticeable characteristic of the species shown above and below is the unusually long and rigid proboscis which comes in very useful for reaching the nectar in narrow, trumpet-shaped flowers such as the Cowslip. In fact, the Bee Fly is, arguably, a vitally important pollinator for the Cowslip for that very reason.
Goldwing Years ago I gave this slightly more eye-catching species of House Fly the name of Goldwing simply because I didn't know of any common name given to them and Mesembrina meridiana is a bit of a mouthful when you're just a kid. Easily recognisable by the golden colour on their faces and at the bases of the wings, I spent many an hour studying them using the microscope given to me when I was about nine years old by my Uncle Chris, the Gamekeeper.
Feral No glorious plumage, no mellifluous song, no endangered species celebrity status, no twitcher interest and definitely no WOW factor worth a damn, but she's still beautiful....at least to me.
Scaly Polypore (Dryad's Saddle) This attractive-looking Polypore is edible and quite tasty, especially when young, but I wouldn't recommend that you remove one or even part of one from the base of the tree where you'll find it growing because it's very bad luck to do so. The alternative, country name of "Dryad's Saddle" refers to the ancient belief that, when it grows to a certain size (about the size of a dinner plate), it will be used as a seat by a tree-dwelling Faerie called a Dryad. In fact, the presence of such a fungus growing at the base of a tree is said to be a sure sign that the tree also plays host to a solitary woodland Dryad who uses the "saddle" to sit upon as he enjoys the last rays of a setting sun and that bad luck will be bestowed upon anyone unkind or thoughtless enough to remove it by the subsequently enraged Dryad! My Gamekeeper uncle always made sure that we left a small offering of food or possibly a penny on the saddle itself as a gift for the Dryad who owned it and who would then, hopefully, bestow good fortune upon us for the rest of the day. I'm not afraid to admit that I actually left some cheese from my only sandwich on this particular Polypore and, when I returned that way several hours later, I noticed that the cheese had already disappeared....Proof, if ever it were needed, that Dryads really do exist! Scoff if you like, but these little things are important and, as for having good luck as a result....Less than an hour after I'd left the cheese, I saw and watched, for at least ten minutes, the desperately rare sight of a pair of newly arrived Hobbys wheeling and diving together above a lake about two hundred metres away from where Tess and I finally sat to share the remainder of my sandwich!
Toothwort (Corpse-Flower) Way back in the 1950s and when not at school, I spent almost all of my time out and about with my dog, Slipper, exploring the woods, river banks, meadows and fields that lay between my home town of Tewkesbury and the Tudor cottage near Chacely where my Gran lived. Not far from the cottage was a small wood referred to on one or two maps of the time as "Hazel Wood", but known more colloquially as "Corpse Wood". Legend had it that, following their heavy defeat at the hands of the King's army at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May, 1471, a desperate group of surviving Lancastrian soldiers still loyal to Queen Margaret, were forced to flee across the River Severn from a marauding band of Yorkists and take refuge in the then probably much larger Hazel Wood, only to be discovered by their pursuers that very night and subsequently beheaded to a man! It was said that all the bodies were buried in shallow graves within the wood itself and that, according to local records.... "A greet abundance of Corpse-Flower (Toothwort) has grow-ed in Hazel Wood from the graves of the poor murder-ed wretches beheaded there" ....and continued to do so, I might add, until the last of the wood was bulldozed flat in the 1970s by developers to make way for two industrial units! I remember the wood really well and explored there quite happily when other kids preferred not to because of the many stories of ghostly apparitions and unnatural goings-on. I also remember that Toothwort actually did grow there in "greet abundance", but I can honestly say that I never saw or even heard a ghost in the wood of any kind. Meanwhile, there's another Toothwort Photo and some more text to go with it on the "Surveys" page of the co.uk site.
Honesty Even though it's of absolutely no interest to anyone but me, I'll say it anyway....Of my top-twenty all-time favourite wildflowers, no less than fourteen of them are springtime flowering species. I photographed two of them yesterday at my Mum's and Dad's grave. It was my Mum's birthday and I'd transplanted them there (the flowers that is, not my parents) on the same date years ago, partly because of their historical and social significance, but mostly because my Mum simply liked them. I've also planted wild Forget-Me-Nots of one sort or another (plus various other wildflower species) on some of the other graves as well, including Ellie's, Lillian's, Malcolm's, my Gran's, Uncle Chris', Harry's and Tony's. Meanwhile, Honesty (above) can often be found growing close to human habitation and is firmly established these days as an acceptably wild species. On the other hand, the Tufted Forget-Me-Not (below) is a much scarcer (usually) wetland plant that I've been single-handedly attempting to re-introduce to a number of specific water margins in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire (with notable success) for almost two decades.
Birch Polypore Apart from the fact that this particular fungus only grows on Birch trees, there's not a lot I can say about it....except that Mr Coutes, a teacher at my primary school when I was a boy used them as ink blotters rather than blotting paper and that Old Man Steele, a local farmer, would set them alight because the smoke helped to "settle" his bees.
Tess Portrait....In the Garden
Here's Looking at Ewe! Tess's progress with regard to behaving passively around other animals has been excellent. She doesn't behave in any way whatsoever that would cause even the most skittish of breeds to panic or take flight. In fact, they usually prefer to simply stand and watch what she does.
After the Storm At least the Mozzies don't seem to mind all the rain/sun/rain/sun/rain type of weather we're being subjected to this week. There are clouds of them hanging-out along the water margins especially. Not to worry though, it's the females that do the bitey thing and these are all males!
Meanwhile, if, like me, you don't mind using your camera in the rain, then make sure that you remember to wipe the water off the end of your sticky-outy thingy after it gets all wet otherwise you'll probably end up with a few unwanted special effects similar to the one above!
Water-Baby I've completely lost count of the number of times that Tess and I have been drenched in rainstorms this week (end of March). We tend to get soaked three or four times a day (see below). It's just that either the sun is shining in a clear blue sky or it's tipping down. There doesn't seem to be an in-betweeny bit!
Naturalised Hellebore I reckon it's almost certainly the case that a number of well-meaning individuals out there are taking it upon themselves to "brighten up" certain parts of the English countryside by introducing varieties of flowering plants probably obtained from such places as garden centres....presumably because they think it will make the place look much nicer. However, no matter how noble such people's intentions might be, it is most definitely NOT a good idea!
Basically, the introduction of just about any "alien" species of flora or fauna is a potential disaster waiting to happen, even if you think that you can predict every possible outcome with regard to any and all effects upon the local indigenous wildlife, which, in itself, would certainly very be a neat trick if you could pull it off because no-one else has ever been able to do it!
For example, did the person who planted the pretty Hellebore shown above on a grass verge in a Herefordshire country lane know whether it's a poisonous species or not? Probably not, but then neither would the local farmer's livestock!
There are many classic cases of well-intentioned, but ultimately ignorant people who have created what amount to one man or one woman wildlife disasters by physically altering the balance of things in rural or wilderness areas by introducing something foreign into those environments. The handful of American Mink rescued from a fur farm and released into the British countryside not so many years ago by a typically idiotic animal rights group is a perfect example....It was an act of crass stupidity that went on to play a major part in the virtual extinction of the native British Water Vole! Japanese Knotweed, the Hottentot Fig, the Ruddy Duck and the ubiquitous Grey Squirrel are all further examples of just a few of the introduced species that have caused various degrees of chaos and/or mayhem in the British countryside and which continue to do so.
So, if you're one of those people drawn to the idea of planting a few, for example, brightly coloured Delphinium, a Colchium (Autumn Crocus) or two or the odd Veratrum (False Hellebore) somewhere in a field, hedgerow or woodland near you, while under the misguided impression that you're doing your own bit to "enhance" the otherwise slightly dull, but naturally occurring flora of the British countryside, then I strongly suggest that you re-evaluate your ideas somewhat radically before your local farmer comes pounding at your door demanding compensation for his prize herd of Western Red-Polled that you inadvertently managed to poison!
Now That's What I Call a Proper Spring Reedbed Imagine that it's about two months from now, the sun is shining, it's pleasantly warm and you are walking past this place....You can hear the oft repeated, rhythmic "trett tiritiri trew tiri" of a Reed Warbler or two, the "kew kew kew kew" of a Hobby passing briefly overhead, the "whirrring" wings of a giant, Golden-Ringed Dragonfly as it hunts for its next meal amongst the Reedmace, the twittering "vit vit vits" of a small group of wheeling Swallows pursuing airborne insects and the booming "whump"of a Bittern calling further off...and, of course, the susserrating sound of the soothing breeze as it whispers its way between the reed stems....Basically, it will mean of course, that Summer is here at last!
On a Woodland Walk
On a woodland walk 'long an ancient trail at a steady pace I never fail
....to sense with joy The living trees Their branches swaying In the breeze
Strong and silent Aged they By being there They make my day
By Daisy W, my Mum (Date unknown, but probably written sometime during the War)
A Golf-Ball-Sized Group of Wild Ivy Seed Pods
Springsign....Gorse Flowers Another photo (taken 25th February) to show that Spring is well and truly on its way.
Poinsettia Leaf I've had to place our Poinsettia plant out of Tess's reach because I caught her chewing one of the leaves this morning. While it's a myth that the plant is actually poisonous (although it is a type of Spurge and many Spurges are quite toxic), it is true that eating any part of a Poinsettia can cause severe diarrhea and/or vomiting in both animals and humans. It's also worth bearing in mind that the sap can cause temporary blindness if it comes into contact with the eyes.
Snowdog I do believe she's smiling!
The Old Watering Hole
Keeping Your Eye on the Ball
Across the Snow-Covered Fields and Hills It always amazes me that, on the very days that she feels most unwell, my wife insists on going out for our longest walks....and she NEVER forgets to take her smile!
Today I saw Mr John Heading home From the fields where he works all alone
He looked so tired ...and grey In a strange sort of way
I said “Hello Mr John. How are you today?” But he walked on by I couldn’t catch his eye
I stood and watched him trudge along the lane Such a lonely man Since the awful telegram
Joshua, his only son And the sunshine in his life Was taken in some foreign field and then his wife
Died soon after....of a broken heart they say
Yes, today I saw Mr John But I worry that he will soon be gone As well
Written by Daisy W, my Mum, sometime during WWII. She would have been in her mid-teens at that time and, being a country lass, she naturally joined the Land Army, teaching town girls how to farm the land and tend livestock.
Zoo Diary Anecdote
This is a true story and one of literally dozens to be gleaned from my diaries of the time (oh whoopy-doo I hear you say)...
On my very first day as an apprentice keeper at the zoo back in the mid-1960s, I was taken to be introduced to Gloria, an ageing, but reasonably easy-going female Indian (Asian) Elephant. We got on straight away because I immediately gave her a big bramley apple (her favourite).
In those days, most big zoos acquired nearly all of their money through gate receipts and the emphasis was on entertaining the public rather than things like endangered species breeding programme initiatives and addressing conservation issues as they are today.
Anyway, there were many ways of entertaining the public, including the more acceptable Penguin and Sea-Lion feeding-time displays still practised in modern zoos, but also the less acceptable performing Parrot shows, rides in carts pulled by Llamas, Chimp's tea-parties and, of course, the inevitable Elephant rides!
Gloria didn't like giving rides to the general public very much, especially when it came to the younger, stickier, snottier, noisier versions and, following one rather unpleasant incident involving a particularly sticky, snotty and very noisy seven year-old, she had been subsequently withdrawn from "active" service!
However, she always enjoyed her afternoon stroll around the zoo's grounds (with keeper in tow) and meeting members of the public on her terms and I was invited to tag along on such a stroll on my very first day to, shall we say, learn the ropes.
The point of this rather long-winded story is that I was approached by a young lad about ten years-old that very day and I wrote our conversation down in my diary that evening....
"Yes, what can I do for you?
"D'you do elephant rides?"
"No, the elephants do elephant rides"
"Eh? No, I mean can I 'ave a ride on your elephant?"
"Er, no I'm afraid not"
Because Gloria, that's her name by the way, doesn't like giving rides"
Because she gets a little bit upset when people ask too many questions and she squished the last person who kept on annoying her"
"Oh" The boy took two steps back and stared at Gloria for few moments and then at me "Can I ask you one more question then?"
"I suppose so. What do you want to know?"
"How d'you get down off an elephant?"
"Er, I think you'll have to ask Mr Blenkin here. He's Gloria's keeper...."
"You don't!" The boy was looking triumphant all of a sudden.
"You don't get down off an elephant....You get down off a duck!" and, with that, the boy ran off and disappeared around the nearest corner!
As I've said many times, I would write a book about those days, except that people wouldn't believe the half of it!
The Old Barn Just a couple of miles or so from where I live and home to a pair of local Barn Owls. I'd spent the day out with Tess, mostly in and around Upper and Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold. About nine miles over hill and down into valley, it was very cold (about minus 9) with snow on the higher ground, but it was also very sunny with barely a breath of wind. The "Fire in the Sky" sunset in the photo opposite was a treat at the end of the day!
Christmas Day Santa Horror! Very few people are aware that Father Christmas was, in actual fact, an Elf....and a very small Elf at that! After all, how else do you think he managed to get down all those chimneys for so many years....magic? Yea, sure!
Mmm....Anyway, to cut a tall story short, it was just after the "Old Boy" came down our chimney last night that Tess suddenly awoke from her usual dreams of chewing all my worldly possessions into tiny, useless little pieces, that she saw him messing about with his big sack under the Christmas tree and promptly decided to pounce on him!
Not surprisingly, the ensuing cuffuffle woke me up as well and, as I gradually began to realize what was going on, I reached for my camera and managed to squeeze off a couple of shots....of which this is one.
Naturally, the down side is that Father Christmas has now been eaten alive and there will be no toys next year for all the little girls and boys of the world....Still, never mind, think of all the money that we poor, hard-working adults will be able to save in the long run!
Meanwhile, there's another "Christmas Day Santa Horror" picture on the "Blue and Purple" page and I added it especially for all you bloodthirsty sickos out there in the ether who just can't get enough guts and gore, even at Christmas time!
Old Man Sam in Reflective Mood Remember Sam? He's our rescue dog and has fallen out of the spotlight a bit since the arrival of Tess. Well, for those of you who might be interested, Sam is very much an old man these days....His sight is beginning to fail him and he's even going a bit deaf...eh?
Rescued when he was about eighteen months old, he's always been my wife's dog really and he never strays very far from her side. Sadly, I don't think he ever really got over the death last year of Leah, my last ranger dog, who tended to make all his decisions for him, organise him and generally keep him on the straight and narrow. Even now, I know he's half expecting her to be with me when I walk in through the door at the end of the day. Then, as soon as he realizes she's not there, he goes and lies quietly in his basket....something he never used to do when I came in and when Leah was still alive!
Meanwhile, Tess will never be any kind of a replacement for Leah as far as he's concerned, but he sort of tolerates her.
In this photograph, he seems lost in his thoughts, though I think it's probably more a question of him trying to remember what actually happened to his memories. Unfortunately, his failing eyesight and gradual loss of hearing are just the tip of the asparagus....foul breath, inexplicable body odours, weight gain, senility, general bewilderment and a tendency to bark at trees all add to the problem....No, wait a minute....That's me!
The Lake Not Far from My House
Keeper of the secrets of time Your roots run deep in the earth While your branches reach for the sky My day is but a moment to you Passing you by In the blink of an eye
Witness to the truth of things Your simple presence brings A sense of calm to me ...An inner peace In a time of War When Death comes to make his call On metal wings!
By Daisy W (my Mum) Circa early 1940s In her mid-teens when she wrote this, she loved trees and hated the War!
Great Mullein Spikes Impressive enough when in flower during the Summer, the Great Mullein still manages to retain its fascination for me well into the Winter months, but in a very different way.
Lean-To "Lean-To" was actually my nickname at secondary school...given to me by the teachers!
Tess will be twelve weeks old on Monday (24th November) and we will have had her for five weeks! She will also be having her final jabs and we'll be able to take her out for "proper" walks at last. She's certainly ready that's for sure and I have a few stern tests for her stamina in mind once she's acclimatised to walking longer distances. It will be interesting to see how she copes with being a wildlife ranger's dog as well, but knowing Tess as I do now, I'm absolutely certain that she'll lap it up and probably leave me struggling to keep up!
On the other hand, you have to take it a little bit easy with Labradors during the first year of their life because the breed as a whole can be prone to severe joint problems, particularly in their hips, in their dotage, so it's not a good idea to over-exercise them by getting them to chase frisbees and sticks for hours every day....even though they absolutely love it. Lots of lower impact distance walking is a much better option and Tess will certainly be getting plenty of that....and I expect I'll be taking a few photos to prove it!
Process of Leaf Dessication Note...This is not a photo-processed image....It really was this colour!
Night-Shift I'm not able to help out full-time at the moment, but I can put in a few hours on the night-shift rota as part of a twenty-four hour protection operation that we're providing for a patch of extremely rare British wildflowers that I stumbled across about a week ago in a very out of the way location and which we'll carry on safeguarding probably until they stop flowering. I'm quite enjoying it actually, even though I'm on my own this time....The night noises are always fascinating and, just like always, I often catch glimpses of things moving in the darkness that never seem to be there when I look for them through the NVE!
Today We Walked Across Open Farmland and Along Leaf-Strewn Country Lanes It was a glorious Autumn day and ideal for a good long walk. I know a thousand such walks in Gloucestershire alone and my wife wants to do them all....and we haven't even begun to venture a little further afield just yet....to the unique countryside of exquisite Cornwall and Devon or to the beautiful counties of Somerset and Wiltshire....We equally plan to experience the rural treasures of wonderful Dorset again together (I'm usually alone doing my job in such places these days)....or heading north into fascinating Warwickshire....and then of course, there's the utterly captivating countryside of Wales just across the border from us....The breath-taking Brecon Beacons and the outstanding Gower Peninsular....or beckoning Pembrokeshire beyond! We've always loved the Llynn Peninsular as well with its quirky Portmerion (home of TV's "The Prisoner")....and the awesome Snowdonia National Park....and we must visit Bara again, beautiful Lake Bara!
I guess we have a lot of walking ahead of us....Oh, and we get our new dog tomorrow as well! The name-game has simmered on all week by the way and no-one wants to call a sweet little ball of Labrador cuteness "Dibble", which is my suggestion....or possibly "Martini" (but only because I know for a fact that it will be piddling any time, any place, anywhere)! Oh well, I guess I'll just have to relent in the end and go with the flow. At the moment, it looks most like it'll end up being called "Saffie".... or "Lottie"....or bleepin' "Milly" or some-such! Still, as long as she doesn't eat my beloved "Zimberlan" walking boots I don't really care what they call her!
Autumn Tones and Shades I love it when the sun picks out a solitary line of Autumn trees sometimes against a dark, forbidding sky!
Colourful Stretches of Leaf-Littered Lanes Occasionally Marked Our Way I pointed out how every seventy-five to a hundred paces or so along such lanes were marked out by the belligerent warning chatter of pairs of territorial Great Tits, even in the Autumn.
Left Land It's good to see how many farmers these days are willing (If not keen) to leave wide margins around the edges of their crop fields to encourage the proliferation of all manner of wildlife plant and animal species.
Meandering River When I was a primary school teacher years ago, the school I worked in had four houses named after four of the Cotswold rivers....Coln (yellow), Windrush (red), Churn (green) and Leach (blue). This was later reduced to three houses simply named after colours ("White" being one of them, but I don't remember the others). Obviously, this was done because a four-house system is far too practical in the event of house competitions of any sort and having proper names based on significant landscape features in the area was considered a little too educational for five to eleven year-olds!
I would lay claim to having worked alongside and learned what little I know about teaching myself from two particularly brilliant teachers...One (Mr L) was at the school I mentioned above and, every year, he would take his class of year 4s or 5s on a tour of the four Cotswold rivers and the villages they pass through. I can honestly say that every single child (plus a few parents and helpers) who ever went on those little trips was absolutely captivated by Mr L's wonderful enthusiasm, knowledge and understanding of and for everything involved and I know for a fact that people who are now in their thirties and their forties still count those trips amongst their most treasured childhood memories. Unfortunately, two things put an end to such trips....the imposition by the Government of the new and league-table-orientated National Curriculum and the demise of the rivers as names for the houses!
The second teacher by the way, was Chris White, then at Prestbury St Mary's Primary School in Cheltenham, but who is now a brilliant international Rugby referee! You may remember him refereeing the "other" semi-final at the Rugby World Cup the year that England won the competition! As a teacher, he had a way with kids that was very special. He was one of those people who never, ever raised his voice (or needed to), yet the kids hung on his every word, straining to hear every whispered syllable (I notice that hulking great rugby players do exactly the same thing)! His lessons were always interesting and he was NEVER condescending! He worked the kids hard and always at a level that suited each individual child and, above all, he was always FAIR! I was his student teacher for about eight weeks and he worked me harder than anyone, but I think it's fair to say that almost everything I tried to do as a teacher from then on was based upon what I'd learned from him....Mind you, he's an ugly b*stard!
The river shown in the picture by the way, is the Water Vole-inhabiting Coln meandering its way towards Bibury, Infinity and Beyond!
October Sunset ....and finally, back to the vehicle and home in time for a hot cup of tea!
Gladioli Stamens Gladioli....or what my Daughter refers to as the "Glad-rags and Gucci bags" of the flower world!
The Seven Maidens ....At least that's what I call them.
Desperate Houseflies What's the name of that predatory character in that popular TV show? You know the one...."Brie" or "Bree" or something like that?
Potentilla I'm still trying to achieve that slightly "painterly" effect with some of my pictures.
Leaves on Water I just liked the colours and the patterns.
Common Garden Spider There certainly seems to be a lot of them about, especially in the Autumn and you can't move in the garden sometimes without walking into their webs....plus they're Spiders, so what more can I say?
Emu Yes, I know it would have been much much better if I'd managed to get the eyes in focus instead of the beak, but Nosey McPosey here kept pecking at the camera....presumably because he could see his own reflection in the lens!
The Ark Animal Sanctuary
I believe the above Emu's name is "Eddy" by the way, though I'm not absolutely certain about that and he can be found at the excellent little "Ark Animal Sanctuary" situated at the Evesham Country Park just off the A46 to the North-East of the town of Evesham. I haven't been inside the place for a few years, but it's somewhere I used to take my kids from time to time when they were little and they both always loved it.
There's lots there for children to see and do, despite the relatively small size of the place and adults will find it interesting too. The staff meanwhile, are very friendly, hard-working and extremely knowledgeable. The animals themselves are well cared for and kept in a clean, stimulating environment and I think the entry fee is still less than a fiver for an adult!
Trust me, I wouldn't recommend the place if I thought it didn't deserve it!
Oh....and there's the big adjacent garden centre as well, with its very good restaurant where I frequently stop-off for a coffee and a slice of cake plus the little steam railway open during the holidays and the fishing in the nearby lake and miles of good walking through the surrounding fruit orchards or along the banks of the River Avon as far as you like....Mmm, you could practically make a day of it....and remember, I don't get asked or paid to put these little adds on my sites, I do it because I want to!
Taipei Silk A beautiful flower, but perhaps with ideas above its station!
Harvestman This is little Leiobunum rotundum who has a tiny globular body, but legs long enough to be a catwalk model. I was really surprised to spot this one sunbathing in shrubbery in the middle of the afternoon because they're meant to be almost exclusively nocturnal...I guess it's another one of those creatures who doesn't pay much attention to what the experts say in the textbooks!
One fact and one question....
They can move through even dense foliage faster (relatively) than any other creature on the planet and I think it should be our demonstration sport in the 2012 Olympics!
Also....Didn't I see them in a film with Tom Cruise recently....Something about giant Harvestmen from Mars trying to take over the world?
"Hi! What's that you're eating....eh? Can we have some?" I walked a long way today, even for me and I decided to have a little bit of a lie down and a bite to eat beside a lake just after mid-day. Two minutes later I was being greeted/besieged by this pair of reprobates who rushed over to see me. In fact, I've known both of them since they were knee high to a duck egg and they know full well that I always have a handful of duckanswan food secreted about my person somewhere exactly for occasions such as this. I wont give you their names or where they're located because we've upset a few sadistic morons lately and they might decide to get back at us by taking it out on these two, but they always seem as pleased to see me as I am them (the Swans that is, not the morons)!
TBI I'll need a little help from Nobby to identify this one, but I'll have to wait until he gets back from looking out for the welfare of some very special new birds up in Scotland. He's already been up there a month, sleeping rough mostly!
White Bryony I'm nowhere near 100% certain what species of Moth this is, but it was about the size of a House Fly! The unwholesome-looking flower meanwhile, is White Bryony, one of the most deadly of all the poisonous plants (of which there are many and various) to be found in the UK. I've gone on at great length about things like White Bryony and Hemlock on the other website www.wildliferanger.co.uk so I'll spare you here.
House Spider I glanced up from reading my book this evening to see the old girl in this picture staring down at me from her vantage point on the wall just a few inches from my face. She was almost three inches across and probably about three years old. She obligingly let me take a couple of photos before scurrying off to be about her business.
The slightly smaller males are often to be seen dashing across the living room floor, particularly in the Autumn, as they rush around like sex-starved teenagers trying to find a mate....or a bit like Sean on a Saturday night!
House Spiders are predatory hunters and combine with several other species of Spider in and around our homes to ensure that we aren't all knee-deep in insect pests of all kinds, including things like Cockroach nymphs or even adult Cockroaches themselves in the case of little old Treganaria domestica above.
Understandably, most people don't like Spiders (possibly due to some kind of residual genetic memory of a time when certain Spiders were a whole lot bigger and a heap more dangerous than they are today), but it's not a good idea to kill them (providing they're not potentially poisonous to people and/or pets)...after all, they do far more good than harm and it's much better to get someone to trap them and re-release them out of sight in the garage or basement....You could even buy one of those special Spider-catching trap thingys on the end of a pole and do the job yourself!
We don't have any poisonous Spiders in the UK, at least not any that are poisonous to humans, but a House Spider the size of the one above is quite capable of giving you a nip if you're stupid enough to mess her about. It's also coming up to Autumn and that always means more Spiders around the house....and especially in the bath! A simple way to overcome the Spider in the bath problem is to leave a length of material or rope hanging over the side of the bath to enable Spiders to climb out all by themselves....Simple!
"Pond" on the "Blue and Purple" Page
A Forest of Bristly Ox-Tongue Stamens
Black Bean Aphid Mystery So, What's going on here exactly? I noticed that the Aphid at the top of the picture was in a very agitated state, running about all over the place. This is unusual behaviour for such a normally plodding and inactive "grazing" species, so I took this photo. At the time I thought it might be some kind of emergence, but the larvae produced from any egg laid inside the Aphid would have eaten it alive long before it finally decided to seek the light of day. I can't make out what the green thing actually is, but if you look closely, there seems to be a small amount of red, possibly blood, around what could be a penetration wound and, if you look even closer, might that not be at least half a dozen tiny eggs of some sort actually inside the body of the Aphid? If this unfortunate individual really has been parasitised, then it looks as though the creature that laid the eggs has died and remained attached to the host! I tell you, Sci-Fi films like "Alien" have got nothing on the real-life Natural World!
Insect Eggs Maybe or Perhaps Some Kind of Exotic Fruit? You might well have difficulty identifying what this is, so I'll put you out of your misery....It's actually the centre of a Chic Dahlia flower!
Despite popular demand Chapter Four of "Longbone the Storyteller" entitled "Woad the Painter" has now been added to the "Survival Guide" page
Nymph Earwig Is this the Common variety? It was very small, even for such a youngster and only had ten-segmented antennae. Adult Earwigs can also be greyish or even white after moulting.
Gold-Ringed Dragonfly on Common Nettle I was so pleased to get even this shot of a creature that's so incredibly skittish and almost impossible to get anywhere near. Meanwhile, if you ever see some plonker with a camera, dressed in assorted camouflage gear and prowling up and down the edge of some water meadow or other half way up a hillside for at least an hour in the middle of Summer, then you'll probably be able to guess what they're doing! Meanwhile, I can't be 100% certain, but the three-celled anal triangle on this individual's hind-wing and the broader yellow bands on the thorax make me think that this is more likely to be the Cordulegester bidentatus variety of this particular Hawker species which has always lacked a common name for some reason....so maybe I'll call them Tiger-Tail Dragonflies, though I'm not altogether sure why!
Shore Crab This is possibly the commonest of the British Crab species and individuals are particularly noticeable at low tide when they scuttle sideways between the rocks and the strands of seaweed left high and dry on many of our beaches. This one was tiny, about the size of a five pence piece and already boasted the species' characteristic three-toothed mouth-parts (not visible in this picture). Shore Crabs can be quite aggressive when cornered or if they feel threatened, but much prefer to avoid trouble if at all possible, hurrying away from danger when they can.
Padstow....and a Few of the Decently Behaved Tourists I love Padstow (or should that be Padstein these days?) at any time of year....except in the High Summer! There are far too many humans infesting the place and this is one animal species that I'm just not very good at dealing with any more! The general conduct and behaviour of far too many people seems to have changed totally for the worse in recent years and I find their apparently desperate need to gather into very large crowds wherever there happens to be a retail outlet or two and then do nothing but moan about the busy roads and streets, the over-crowded shops and the never-ending queues for everything and anything to be completely mystifying. Rats do a similar thing of course....craving the company of their own kind, only to turn on each other when things get too crowded and competition for increasingly scarce resources becomes more acute!
It was quite hot on the day that I took this photograph and that in itself certainly didn't seem to do anything for the general emotional disposition of a significant proportion of the visitors to this beautiful and archetypal Cornish village....Irrational arguments erupted in car parks as competition for parking spaces grew more and more intense, parents lost all patience with their children (and each other) over the most incomprehensibly trivial of things and I counted no less than eleven thick tw*ts who decided to drop their litter wherever they happened to be standing (about two metres from a litter bin in one case) or who preferred to simply throw it into the harbour! It seemed just as though there was some kind of insanity competition in full swing, whereby the bewilderingly ignorant were competing with the masterfully moronic to be crowned King or Queen of the persistently ill-mannered and terminally inconsiderate!
My wife and daughter happened to be with me that day and, after they'd tried (and mostly failed) to have a quick look around several of the shops, I took them for a short, two hundred metre walk up a fairly steep hill through the old village to a part of Padstow that I promised would be completely devoid all human life....and it was!
We continued on along the edges of several fields as Barn Swallows chased insects above us and around us. Red Admiral, Peacock, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Small Copper Butterflies skittered across the wheat and Barley and more Tree Sparrows than I've seen in one place for years chattered endlessly to each other amongst the hedgerows. A Hare dashed ahead of us at one point and dozens of Rabbits dived for cover as we approached. A family of Buzzards rode the thermals in the blue skies above and a passing Sparrow Hawk cried out as a tisking Wren escorted us very firmly from his territory. Scarlet Pimpernel grew amongst the wheat stalks and a mat of Sand-Spurrey caught my daughter's attention as I tried to show her the difference between Goat's-Beard, Cat's-Ear, Ox-Tongue and a summer showing of Autumn Hawkbit. Then, as we gained the brow of a hill a few fields further on, they were able to enjoy the view (below) that I had wanted them to see....
They stood motionless for a few moments, taking it all in, but then my daughter asked why it was that, considering how crowded the harbour area had been, so few people seemed prepared to make the effort to discover such a fantastic view for themselves....Well, I didn't have an answer really, but I did suggest that it was the two hundred metre walk up a fairly steep hill and the total lack of shops and pubs en route that perhaps had something to do with it....and that it was probably just the local people and the dogs they exercise who would be keenest to take advantage of such a beautiful place and be fully appreciative of the rewards to be gained from investing the relatively small amount of effort required to walk there!
Where the Camel Estuary Meets the Atlantic Ocean and the Next Stop is New York
Shield Bugs This little cluster of Shield Bugs was in a garden hedge in Cornwall's St Issey. They are newly emerged from the nymph stage, while the slightly smaller, brownish individual near the top of the picture is probably the most recently emerged of the group. They will remain as a tight-packed "unit" until they are fully ready to disperse as this goes some way towards fooling potential predators into thinking that they are one, much larger insect rather than lots of smaller, tasty snackettes. I do know that there are over thirty species of Shield Bug in the UK and that all but one of those is native. Several of them however, have attained pest status for the damage they are capable of doing to various crops and we are always on the lookout for unusually large numbers of them, but others are actually considered helpful because they eat a wide variety of potentially more harmful insect pests.
Sunflower Still in its prime, the normally familiar-looking seeds developing on this flower-head are, as yet, barely recognizable as such.
Greenbottle Another type of Blow-Fly.
Bluebottle A type of Blow-Fly, this attractively-coloured, but carrion-loving insect is one of the main culprits responsible for all those vitally important maggots you so often see infesting dead meat. Important? Absolutely....because without them being around to dispose of all those smelly rotten carcasses you see all over the place, we'd be up to knees in disease-ridden dead stuff all the time!
Please note.... "General Diary Stuff" is now continuing on the "Blue and Purple" Page
Like a Smaller Version of a Flesh Fly Possibly a Polietes larderia....or maybe just a plain old Stable-Fly or a Cluster Fly of some sort (though probably not).
Male Small Skipper The last week of July and at last we're having a couple of consecutive days of warmer weather with prolonged bright sunny spells....and, as a result, the Butterflies (above and below) have finally begun to make an appearance as well! There are still nowhere near as many as usual though, particularly in the Evesham Vale and Severn Valley flood plain areas.
"Grass?....What Grass?" Only one suspect remained to be questioned concerning the fresh holes scratched in the Boss's beloved, prize-winning lawn!
Water-Forget-Me-Not (Blue) I've added this to compliment the pink version shown across the page.
"Sun Arise....Early in da Mornin'" Am I the only one old enough to remember that song?
Helianthemum Wisley Pink
Seed Heads If you're a regular visitor to my websites (presumably between medications), then you'll know that I'm doing my best to develop my own particular "style" of photography (without recourse to "photoshop" techniques) that involves lots of natural luminosity, pastel-type colours and subtle tones. I want to create a sense of texture and warmth in my images, together with a painterly quality reminiscent of a Pissarro or the wonderful Berthe Morisot. I want to be able to draw the viewer into my pictures via the sense of "connection" I establish with my subject....I want all of these things more than anything, so perhaps you'll understand why I get so frustrated by the terrible limitations of my own ability. I know what I want, but I also know in my heart that I'm just not good enough to achieve it! Still...I'll keep trying because the "trying" part has meaning in itself, even if the results continue to frustrate and disappoint!
Blue and Gold Every Blue and Gold Macaw I've ever known has proven to be a total character with a personality to rival any human. They are hugely popular as pets and can often be on view to the general public in the most unexpected of places....as is the case with the one above who spends his day in the grounds of a garden centre happily watching the world go by and occasionally saying "hello" to people.
Most of the ones that I used to look after at the zoo were free to roam the grounds pretty much as they pleased (though none of them ever went too far away from the food supply....ie, me) and spent most of their day interacting with keepers, members of the public and even a few of the other animals. These days, Health and Safety do their best to put a stop to such things of course in the....er, best interests of everyone concerned!
Incidentally, you might just be able to see a red flush to this bird's cheeks. They sometimes go like that when an individual gets excited or angry and I don't think this one was very happy about me holding up a camera to take his picture. Macaws on show to the general public quickly learn from experience and can never be absolutely certain about what to expect from people. Many of them therefore, become apprehensive and start to worry about everything from camera flashes to pet dogs to unaccompanied children. Mind you, some of them are just grumpy old sods who prefer to be left alone and the last thing they want is for some tw*t with a camera to come up and start taking snapshots!
Interesting facts about Macaws.... 1....The black feather patterns/markings on their faces are unique to each individual and can be used to identify those birds which have been lost or stolen....although I believe that these days, micro-chipping is a much more effective method, if only because there's a national register that can be used to prove of your bird's identity beyond question. 2....They mate for life, although they do have their occasional fallings-out and the Parrot equivalent of a "divorce" is not unknown....except that, nine times out of ten, they're all lovey-dovey again a few days later! For this reason, I'm not entirely comfortable with Macaws being kept as solitary birds in the home....although the late introduction of any potential suitor into the home environment will often prove a disaster for all kinds of reasons! So, if you're thinking about attempting to pair your own Macaw with a completely new bird, I suggest that you consult a Macaw expert first and possibly save yourself a great deal of money and even heartbreak!
The Centre of this Beauty Reminds Me a Little Bit of the Millennium Dome ....What do they use that monstrosity for these days by the way? One of the people who made a fortune out of all that mess (at the total expense of the taxpayer I might add) lives in a massive house just up the road from me....Now, there's a nasty piece of work if ever you want to meet one. I had a go at him once for beating a horse with a riding crop because it was making him look a complete tw*t in front of some dozy show-piece woman or other who seemed to think it was all very funny! He couldn't get it to stand still long enough for him to be able to get on it (the horse that is, not the woman) and I could see in his face how much he wanted to turn the crop on me when I asked him politely, but firmly to....er, desist, but he knows my Boss (who doesn't like the cowardly b*stard any more than the horse does) from his dealings in the City and he's all too aware of the kind of background that the the Boss's employees tend to have....so he thought better of it....sadly!
I don't like the type of people (and I don't care who they think they are) who mistreat animals and who seem to enjoy nothing more than inflicting pain and misery at every available opportunity on something that's completely incapable of defending itself....as though the poor creature is somehow to blame for morons like them having such a small penis or a rat-ugly face (both in this case....allegedly)! Still, the guy's got loadsa money and so, naturally, that seems to make him perfectly ok in most people's eyes!
Syrphus vitripennis....Pest-Controller So, what's the link between the Hover Fly above, the Ladybird Photo across the page and the Cow Parsley below? Well. just like the Ladybird, the larvae of this particular Hover Fly predate heavily on Aphids, while the adults prefer feeding from the nectar produced by plants such as Cow Parsley. In fact, I photographed this Hover Fly on one of the umbellifers of the very Cow Parsley shown below! Isn't I clever?
Cow Parsley Poor old Cow Parsley has suffered in the past because of the reputations of it's very similar-looking, but ultra-poisonous cousins, Hemlock and Fool's Parsley....Yet Cow Parsley is completely innocuous and I used to feed it to both my own and my Gran's pet Rabbits when I was a boy. However, it was partly because kids in days gone by used to enjoy making pea-shooters out of the large, hollow stems of Cow Parsley that accidents occasionally happened when a child (or even an adult) didn't actually know the important differences between the Parsleys!
Approaching Storm-Band I guess we'll have to get used to extreme low pressure weather in the middle of Summer from now on....Late afternoon and I'd just taken the "Woolly Thistle Vortex" photo (shown on the other side of this page) when I turned around to see this extraordinarily narrow band of stormy weather approaching rapidly out of the East-North-East. It passed right over me, sucking in the air from all around as it went. Then, it suddenly rained so heavily that visibility dropped to no more than sixty or seventy metres! It was gone just as fast as it had arrived, but not before I had been soaked to the skin! It was followed a few minutes later by another band of storm clouds....and then another....and each time I could feel the relative drop in pressure and each time the Heavens opened up! At one point lightning danced about me, forcing me to hunker down in the lea of an old dry-stone wall to sit it out!
I saw on the News later in the evening that a similar thing had occurred in Northampton and they showed someone's video pictures of tornadoes tearing through the storm clouds above the town, though oddly, they didn't actually seem to touch the ground!
Scabious It's probably not obvious, but I do actually try very hard to achieve a sense of both warmth and luminosity in my wildlife photographs in a rather sad attempt to, not only develop my own recognisable "style", but to create something that has more than a hint of....er, "painterliness". Unfortunately, this places me well outside of the current demand for digital photographers to produce only the sharpest and most clinically resolved of images....So don't ever waste your time wondering if a picture in a news-stand-type magazine is one of mine....It wont be!
Studley Grange "Butterfly World" As the name suggests, It's a world and it's got Butterflies....hundreds of the beautiful little b*ggers....though some of them aren't so little....more like flying saucers in fact....including the cups! Studley Grange Garden and Leisure Park Hay Lane, Wroughton, Swindon, Wiltshire www.studleygrange.co.uk
I'm being approached more and more these days by various companies and/or individuals who ask me if I would like to advertise their businesses and products on my websites. They usually inform me that because I'm suddenly getting "X" number of "hits" in such and such a week and then when it's cross-referenced to certain types of demographic etc, they feel it would be worth their while....and mine too....blahdy-blahdy-blah!
Obviously, I'm perfectly aware that yesterday, for example, I had nearly two hits on this website alone, but what these people fail to appreciate is that I don't give a rat's nadgers what they're selling or how much they think it might be worth theirs, mine or anyone else's while because I'M JUST NOT INTERESTED, so they should save their time and effort and try elsewhere!
Yes, I do advertise the odd charity group, or company on my websites, but that's simply because I've been impressed by the work they do, the service(s) they provide or the product(s) I've bought from them and not because some jerk-off in a shiny suit assumes I'll be prepared to advertise any old crap just because they're prepared to pay me for the privilege!
"Butterfly World" is a perfect example....I can't imagine that they'd ever ask me to advertise them on my websites and the place itself isn't the biggest I've ever seen either....nor is it flashy or pretentious....it is what it is, but it seems to work. I'd had a tough day and, since I was in the neighbourhood (basically Wiltshire), I decided to pop in for a looksee. An hour and a couple of hundred photographs later, I re-emerged having had a very pleasant and relaxing time wandering about amongst the tropical plants, camera in hand, trying to get shots of one stunning beauty after another! You can keep your so-called catwalk and glamour models because, as far as I'm concerned, you can't beat getting up close and personal with an Asian Morph pleides, an Amazonian Graphium agamemnom or a Mexican Heliconius melpomone!
Oops....not very manly for someone with my kind of background is it, but then, just give me time to myself in a "Butterfly World", a "Slimbridge", a good zoo or a "Bird of Prey Conservation Centre" and I'm a very happy little bunny!
What's the Collective Noun for a Load of Asters? Dunno....but this is one of lots of these pretty little flowers making a particularly good showing this year at the front of the house....much to the delight of my wife of course, who takes great pleasure in planting such things in the first place and bringing them on!
An Old Friend If you scroll down this page far enough, you'll find a picture of one of White-Eye's former offspring when it was just a few weeks old and still without its red breast. I was certain it was a female at the time and I called her "Blink" because she seemed to have an over-active blink reflex. Well, she carried on visiting my garden all through the Summer of 2007 and into the Autumn, but then she stopped coming all of a sudden and I feared the worst! In fact, I didn't see her ever again....until today! In fact, I spotted her this morning on the suet-block feeder at the front of the house and managed to get this very hurried shot of her....and before you ask, yes....I know it's her (despite the fact that she's looking a bit thinner) because she most definitely still has the blink!
More importantly, I was pleased to note that she now has her own family to feed and was constantly back and forth from the feeders to the trees in her efforts to stuff as much food as she possibly could down the throats of two very large youngsters....which is also probably the reason why she's looking so thin at the moment!
The White Beauty with the Dark, Deadly Secret! About five photographs below this one is a picture of what I believe to be a truly wild Columbine, while the one above is a naturalized white version. I noticed it from a distance miles from anywhere as it was being illuminated by a solitary shaft of sunlight piercing through the branches of the tree canopy above.
Anyway....I was listening to a self-appointed "expert" herbalist pontificating on a local radio station the other day. She was going on about the dietary and medicinal benefits of a great many of our British wildflowers and had obviously done her homework....though I do wonder what someone like my Gran, a "proper", oldy-worldy type of herbalist (the kind who invented or discovered half the stuff that the woman on the radio was blabbing on about and who'd probably have been burnt as a witch in less enlightened times) would have made of her! Interestingly, at least from my point of view, the radio lady went on to mention that the Columbine had once been used for medicinal purposes in years gone by, but spoilt it by then encouraging people to consider actually trying such remedies for themselves and, of course, to buy her brand-new book which would enable them to do exactly that!
Mmm....with that in mind, it might be helpful to consider at least two very important things where the wild Columbine is concerned....
1, It's a totally protected species in the wild and, if any of us just so much as suspect that you're attempting to pick the flowers or dig up an entire plant, then we'll get very....cross and we'll probably force Nobby to peel off his extremely smelly, soiled and crusty underpants for the purpose of tying around your head for the rest of the day as a salutary reminder never to do it again!
2, The so-called "beneficial" parts of the plant have to be prepared as a potion and taken internally. However, what the lady on the radio failed to mention (despite apparently having been awarded a "special" certificate of accreditation issued by the "Internationally acclaimed" Institute of Homoeopathy Something or Other) was that all parts of this pretty member of the Buttercup family are actually POISONOUS and that it was only after four young children from a small village near Hereford in the mid-19th Century became severely ill as a result of being prescribed a Columbine-based "health" potion (leading to the death of two of them) that the plant finally fell out of favour with the herbalists of the time!
In fact, illnesses caused as a direct result of imbibing various Columbine-based potions used to be quite common at one time (particularly amongst children) and its use was viewed with extreme caution by "proper" herbalists who had learnt their trade from anywhere other than books, correspondence courses and the internet....Oh yes, and especially by the real experts such as my Gran who always professed a great distrust of the plant, especially after we had to sit up all one summer's night with a very poorly "Butterbur" (her enormous Gloucester Old-Spot Pig) after he'd managed to get out of the cottage garden the previous afternoon and wander up the little lane to a small woodland where he'd found and eaten three-quarters of a Columbine plant!
He survived, but it was a close call....and I earned sixpence from my Gran for helping to get him better and another sixpence from my Granddad for fixing the fence....though I strongly suspect that he re-did it properly after I'd finally walked the three miles home to bed....I was about nine at the time and walked out to my Gran's most days of the week....that is, until I was eventually given an old, second-hand push-bike that I did up with my Uncle Sid's help (or was it the other way round?) and was able to cycle there every five minutes!
Mmm....I'm told that lots of people are quite interested in all that "Days Gone By" kind of stuff, but I don't see it myself....It was a completely different world back then (in the 1950s) and I can't really see anyone under the age of Forty-five believing a word of it! Nine years old, gone all day from dawn to dusk across the fields, climbing trees, making dens in the woods, trekking along the river banks and taking the occasional dip in the river itself (not always intentionally!)....and all by myself, except for "Slipper", my dog! I'd be armed with my dad's old wartime binoculars, a sheath-knife fastened to my belt and a bottle of Tizer in a tartan duffel-bag slung across my back! It was a wonderful time! No concerns about traffic on the roads or child abductors or paedophiles or health and safety....hardly anyone was fat or had asthma or was allergic to anything and absolutely nobody pinched your bike when you left it somewhere and it was three days before you remembered where! Few people could afford a TV and no-one had a telephone in the house....if only because there was no-one else with a telephone who you could ring! "Hancock's Half Hour" was about all I remember being on the radio....and, of course, "Billy Cotton's Band Show" which my Dad liked to listen to during Sunday lunch ("Wakey Waaakeee")!
Perhaps most unbelievable of all however, was the fact that every kid in the neighbourhood carried assorted pen-knives, pocket-knives and/or sheath-knives for the purposes of making catapults or bows and arrows, tree dens or for whittling stuff, but that not one of us would have even dreamt of using them to stab people....besides, if I'd ever stabbed someone my Mum would have killed me....or at least totally ignored me for a couple of days, which would have been much, much worse!
Black Swan No, this isn't a black and white photograph, but the plumage colouration of a solitary and possibly quite lonely Black Swan that hangs around doing nothing in particular on the river at Bibury. Interestingly, I'm the only person that she will allow anywhere near her. I guess that, for some reason, she trusts me or simply doesn't identify me as a threat in any way, shape or form, but that's never been unusual for me where birds are concerned.
Garden Rose Here are two for the garden flower enthusiasts among you....
Cardinal Beetle Sometimes called the Fire-Coloured Beetle or just plain Fire Beetle, there are three or four main types. This is the less common variety and boasts a red head rather than the slightly more familiar black version. I couldn't quite make out what this particular individual was doing when I took the picture, but I suspect I'd arrived at a somewhat inconvenient moment, but then isn't that always the way....just as you settle down for ten minutes to do the....er....crossword and...."knock knock knock"....there's some pillock at the door!
Wild Columbine You know what it's like....you go weeks without seeing anything really special and then, on the same day and in a single wood, you stumble across a truly wild Columbine miles from the nearest habitation, a small proliferation of Garden Parsley, three Gallant Soldiers, probably at the extreme edge of their western range (and possibly spreading) and a beautiful orange, slightly early, but very scarce Fox-and-Cubs, which I haven't seen for years!
Brown Argus (or Possibly Not) Anyway, I've tried several times to photograph Brown Argusesses, but without much success....they are always so active and quick, flitting from flower to flower, never staying still for more than two or three seconds at a time! So it was something of a surprise therefore to come across this specimen hanging completely motionless from the flower-head of a Tufted Forget-Me-Not (note the appressed hairs on the plant's stems)! I was lucky to spot it at all really, what with my eyes not being what they used to be, but notice how its wings are closed up really tight, how its fore-wings are fully retracted and that it's actually hanging absolutely vertically beneath the flower-head itself....but why? Well, the answer is simple....it was totally piddling down with rain and this is how a Brown Argus manages to keep itself relatively dry in such conditions! It's also the reason why (whingy excuse alert!), despite taking a total of sixteen images, of which this was the best, the picture itself is of such poor quality! The light was negligible because of the thick cloud-cover and the wind made everything doubly difficult! Still, I guess I got something out of it....even if it was little more than a pair of soaking wet knees from being forced to kneel down in the long grass to get the shot!
Big on Begonias My wife, a great fan of Begonias, grew this exquisite little beauty in one of her hanging baskets....so beloved of the Wrens who are always poking about in them for this, that and the other. She tells me that "Begonia" is one of the ten largest angiosperm genera and named after the great French botanist, Michel Begon...and to think, I only married her for her money. Not only that, I hardly blamed her at all when it turned out she didn't have any....but then, that's the kind of wonderful man I am!
Yellow This beautiful yellow Welsh Poppy is to compliment its orange cousin featured on the "Home" page of the co.uk site.
The Incredibly Rare and Reclusive Patagonian Man-Eating Donkey Like Dolphins, Bunny Wabbits, fluffy-wuffy Kittens and Dermot O'Leary, I believe that these oh so cuddly-looking little Donkeys almost certainly know something that we don't and are just waiting for the day when they've finally lulled us into a complete sense of security and then....
Cow Parsley Florettes
Orange Tip Butterfly If you're that way inclined, then you'll probably be interested in those various, "fascinating" facts that tell you all about such things as how Orange Tips manage to detect suitable food-plants using special chemosensory hairs on their forelegs which respond to the presence of mustard oils....On the other hand, if you're more like me, then you might be more interested to know that this particular little blighter probably used the same system to detect the jam in my lunchtime butties. He wouldn't go away so I put a blob in the grass for him! Strangely, this appears to be inappropriate, if not exceedingly unlikely behaviour for Orange Tips....at least according to the experts!
Water Shrew This is the largest of the British Shrews and I caught sight of this one foraging for its invertebrate lunch in damp vegetation beside a narrow woodland trail just above Trevaunance Cove in Cornwall. At the risk of looking no more of a twonk than usual, I covered my head in a piece of camouflage scrim and lay down on the ground (camera in hand) a couple of of metres ahead of the short-sighted wee beastie and waited for it to snuffle and sniff its way towards me. Oddly enough, this is the exact same method I used to employ as an overly hormonal teenager years ago in my desperate efforts to meet girls of any persuasion....It worked quite well too, though I must admit, most of them seemed to be lady police officers for some reason....On the plus side however, they were always quite keen to know my name and address!
"Longbone the Storyteller" (11,137 BC....Early Winter) Chapter One "Visitor" on the Ranger Don's Survival Guide page
A Tiny Tiny Little Gorse Moth That's not their real name of course....and I haven't got a clue what it really is, but I've always called them Gorse Moths because I nearly always see them flitting about amongst the dead Gorse needles still hanging on from the previous year's growth. The size and colour of these exceptionally unspectacular little Moths makes them really difficult to spot in situ until, that is, they become airborne....which they occasionally do in their hundreds....especially in a good Moth year or when you accidentally brush against the Gorse bushes sometimes as you walk along coastal footpaths or across the moors.
Number 700....The Extraordinarily Versatile Field Horsetail I'm adding this picture to the "Home" page for two reasons....Firstly, this newly emerged Field Horsetail represents the seven hundredth species of British wildflower or fully naturalized flowering plant that I have managed to photograph so far (only about fifteen hundred to go) and....secondly, because of its huge significance to the social history of Mankind....
Considered by many farmers and gardeners alike to be a thorough pest due to the persistent and spreading nature of its rhizome root structure and its incredible resistance to a wide range of herbicides, you may know this hardy perennial by one or other of its more colloquial names, including...."Ribbon Grass", "Scouring Rush", "Bottlebrush", "Fox's Tail", "Horn Pipes", "Snake Grass", "Mare's Tail", "Shave Grass", "Paddy's Pipe" and, my own personal favourite, "Poor-Man's-Tinker-Toys"....several of which travelled with it all the way to far-flung places such as the USA and Australia incidentally, after it was accidentally introduced there hundreds of years ago by careless and unthinking immigrant farmers!
It's an unusual individual (possibly even unique), in that it boasts two types of stem growth phases and two distinctly different growth habits within the same plant. My picture (above) shows the early Spring unbranched reproductive phase which will eventually grow to about half a metre in height and comes complete with a spore-carrying "cone" at the end which, when blown or knocked, releases a cloud of minute spores/seeds that will carry for miles on the slightest of breezes! It's normally ripe enough for this to take place from around mid-May, but this one was already releasing clouds of spores in mid-April! The second phase (below) occurs later in the Summer, when the plant progresses into its "vegetative" phase (a bit like the House of Commons) and the stems will become highly branched like a horses tail....hence the name!
I know it best because the younger shoots can be cooked (roasted or boiled) or eaten raw and can even be used to make a marginally palatable tea....but be warned, the latter can act as a very efficient diuretic! I've also heard that an effective horse-cough medicine can be made somehow (I don't know how), but I'm not entirely sure about that. Meanwhile, the biogenic silica obtainable from the plant has been used in modern times in all manner of things, including paint thickeners, optical fibres, abrasives, cleaning cloths, detergents and even toothpaste!
From Neolithic Europeans, Early settlers, Native Americans and Australian Aborigines to modern pharmaceutical companies and the perfume and detergent industries, the infinitely ubiquitous Field Horsetail has provided man with a seemingly limitless social and economic resource that's virtually without equal!
Indicator I must admit, Lichen, in all its myriad forms, holds a special fascination for me. Apart from anything else, it's a really good indicator of air quality....the more Lichen you find growing on things like branches, rocks, gravestones and old walls, then the less polluted the air around it is likely to be. Besides, I love the alien-looking nature of the stuff when you study it up close.
A Tiny Alpine Beauty ....one who might easily benefit from an appointment or two with a good dental cosmetic surgeon!
Riverbank Back in the days of TV's "Callan" during the early 1970s, my Mum and Dad purchased a bungalow at Tewkesbury's Mitton Manor from the parents of the drama's namesake character played by tough-guy actor Edward Woodward. However, when the estate agent showed us round for the first time, I had to keep myself from cracking-up on about six or seven occasions when, every time my parents commented that they'd be able to do this or that to the property, the agent chipped in with "well, I'm sure that Edward Woodward would!" Mmm....I have no idea why I mentioned that, apart from the fact that the dead tree shown in the picture above is where at least two Great Spotted Woodpeckers choose to sound-out their drilling rhythms throughout the Spring months....a special kind of place where the woodpeckers would peck wood....just like Edward Woodward wood I guess!
Zoo Time I've been asked to include a photo of myself on here somewhere, but because I'm little more than a big, fat, ugly, grey-haired, long-sighted, semi-deaf, toothless, grumpy old man these days with one bad knee and a permanently bewildered outlook, I thought it might be better if I uploaded something I made a little earlier....forty years earlier in fact! Mmm....It's a totally embarrassing picture that apparently makes me look like some kind of reject from a poor man's version of "Hair, the Musical"....and it was taken in 1969! I was pretty much just an arrogant-looking, long streak of tap-water back then, living in the zoo digs I'd shared with another keeper for nigh on three years....together with a seemingly endless succession of mostly orphaned, abandoned or sickly baby animals....which was basically our equivalent of taking your work home with you I guess! It was also about the same time that Gerald (shameless mega name-drop) Durrell was hoisted upon us by the zoo for a couple of nights (probably to save on hotel bills)! In fact, he may well have been the one who took the picture. He was a guest at our zoo for three main reasons....(1) to promote the release of his latest book ("Birds, Beasts and Relatives" I think it was)....(2) to highlight the fact that it was the tenth anniversary of his own zoo on Jersey and (3)....(most importantly from his point of view)to help raise public awareness of his increasingly significant "Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust" which, by then, was in its fifth year. More importantly to me however, was the fact that he nicked my bed, forcing me to sleep on our ancient threadbare sofa along with a very poorly "Pickles the Pangolin"....who snored loudly and farted tiny little Pangolin farts relentlessly all night long! Apparently, some of you have never heard of such a thing as a Pangolin, but then neither had I until I suddenly found myself looking after Pickles! In fact, Pickles wasn't born at the zoo, but had come to us as part of a live animal consignment from West Africa (remember, this was the 1960s). I think he was about a month old when he arrived in the early Autumn and needed constant care and monitoring. He was still young enough for his scales to be quite soft and could be handled without the gloves eventually required as he got older. On the other hand, he could be quite smelly, giving off an odour sometimes almost as strong and clinging as that of a Skunk and I remember how members of the public would gradually move away from me at the zoo the following day after I'd sat up with Pickles asleep in my lap all night....and Pangolins weren't even my responsibility really! Pickles was surprisingly intelligent (on a par with the average bright Parrot I'd say) and was so good at escaping from almost anywhere you tried to keep him that some of the keepers eventually nicknamed him "Houdini"! We kept him in a cage on a table in the digs at first, but he figured out how to undo the catch and dislodge two wire clips in the same amount of time it took me to make a cup of tea, resulting in a very worrying ten minutes as I searched for him all over the flat before I eventually heard him rustling about in the bottom of the cardboard box we used as a litter bin and into which he'd fallen from the table! Further escapes in the flat included burrowing down the back of the sofa (making me late for work the following morning), getting well and truly stuck under the ancient and extremely heavy wrought-iron gas stove that we soon realized hadn't been moved since before the Boer War and going for a ride to the shops and back in my room-mate's holdall (completely unbeknownst to my room-mate)! In those days, Pangolins were classified with Ant-Eaters and Sloths, but I think that's all changed now. Personally, I'd put them in the same family as the Colditz Escape Committee! Incidentally, I've received a message via a mutual friend from the guy I shared the digs with all those years ago and, according to him, it was actually GD who took the picture. Mmm....I don't remember who it was!
Dawn Light and the Crimson Tulip
Fish No Chips
Drake Mallard There was more than a hint of annoyance in this Drake Mallard's eyes as he struggled to cope with some great plonker with a camera standing right over him to take a stupid bl**dy picture! The tiny droplets of water by the way, are raindrops caught on the surface of the bird's feathers....It had been drizzling that very fine kind of rain you sometimes get on mild, but very grey days.
Deep Inside the Dancing Daffodil
Grape Hyacinth I could have sworn that this picture of a Grape Hyacinth (or one very similar to it) was on one or other of my websites, but I can't find it anywhere....so I've uploaded it again, as I've noticed that this hardy little plant has been flowering in certain places since late February!
Daisies It's not so much that Daisies are flowering early this year, it's more that some of them have continued flowering right through the Winter in certain places!
Carpet Moth I went up to the compost bin at the top of the garden in the dark last night (4th March, 2008) and almost immediately managed to attract several Moths with the light from my torch....and despite the drastic drop in temperature! I left my torch illuminating the top of the bin and went back indoors for my camera. One Moth had landed on a shed window, so I took this photo of its undercarriage from inside the shed. I think it's a Carpet Moth, but probably one of the species common to limestone areas.
Old-Timer I have lots of favourite trees in all sorts of places across the entire country and this one is in Gloucestershire. It's not a spectacular specimen or even all that old as trees go, but there's something about it that cheers me up! Most people like trees, but during the Winter when they've lost their leaves and appear dead to the world (the trees that is, not the people), I think they take on a whole new dimension and I like to photograph them more than ever!
Worm's-eye View Perhaps not the most familiar of angles from which to view a Snowdrop, but it does help to reveal the unfamiliar complexity of such a familiar little plant.
"DT" the Poser I have a garden full of bolshy birds at the best of times, but especially during early Spring when, along with "Uppity Bill" the Robin (below), "DT" the Blackbird is constantly competing to be the most belligerent bird of them all! Ironically perhaps, I've caught DT looking uncharacteristically angelic in this particular photograph!
Female Great Spotted Woodpecker This is the older female of the more established pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers (see the "Home" page of www.wildliferanger.co.uk for photographs of the male and female of the younger pair). All four Woodpeckers have suddenly become very assertive as the breeding season moves on apace and in this shot, this normally shy and reclusive individual is shown standing her ground and defending herself against several very aggressive, out of shot Starlings!
Light in the Wildwood
Lesser Celandine Always the first of the Buttercup family to bloom in early Spring (around mid-March usually), I took this picture of an eleven-petal Lesser Celandine in deepest South Wiltshire early today (18th February, 2008). By Lunchtime I was back in the Cotswolds and photographing nine and ten petal versions of the same species at the edge of a car-park in Chipping Norton!
Male Chaffinch As the mating season gets under-way, birds of all kinds begin to adopt their breeding plumage and if, like me, you feed the little feather-bags regularly, then your garden will doubtless be turning into a veritable riot of colour. The male Chaffinches are particularly colourful at this time of year and on a bright sunny late Winter's day, will really catch the eye ! Soon however, most of them will disperse to the surrounding countryside, leaving just a few pairs of locally-orientated birds to nest and raise young in your area. Also (and as far as I can tell), the tens of thousands of usually slightly less colourful Scandinavian, Northern European and Russian Chaffinches who migrate to the UK in the Autumn have already begun their long and often hazardous return journies home, leaving their more vividly coloured British counterparts to enjoy what appears to be an early Spring!
Hover Fly I'm guessing that this is possibly a Myathropa florea, a slightly paler version of the Drone Fly, but with more than 6,000 species in the Syphidae family it's not very likely that I'm right. I took this picture on the 10th February, 2008 in my own back garden....the sun was shining, the sky was er....sky-blue and the newly flowering Honeysuckle was literally covered with at least seven species of Hover Fly (see also below) and a swarm of Honey Bees....not to mention half a dozen Bumble Bees! Next to Bees, Hover Flies are one of the most important of all insect pollinators as well as being highly aggressive devourers of aphids and other garden pests so look after the ones in your own garden!
Episyrphus Balteatus "Episyr" what? Mmm....you'd think I actually know what I'm talking about wouldn't you!
After the Rain
Common Reed This is, without doubt, the UK's tallest species of grass and the very slim, but extremely tough stems remain strong and upright right through the Winter months. In fact, Common Reed is still used today for thatching purposes and is nearly always cut between late December and early Spring to avoid destroying any new shoots. It's a tough, resilient species all round and, once established (usually in relatively still or brackish water), it can be extremely difficult to remove, so this is best done between July and mid-August in order to prevent the plants building up fresh stores of food for next year's growth. On the other hand, the wardens and managers of wetland sites will often actively encourage the development of large areas of reed-bed for the simple reason that they form an ideal habitat for a huge range of water-margin-based bird species, such as Grey Heron, Moorhen, Coot, Water Rail, Reed Bunting, Bittern and several species of Warbler, including Reed, Sedge and Cettis.
More Common Reed The white, blobby bits on the water in the middle distance by the way, are Black-Headed and Herring Gull....hundreds of them! There were also many Pochard ('Pokard' when I was a boy), Tufted Duck, Mallard, Great-Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Coot and Moorhen on the same lake....as well as a handful of Goldeneye, a couple of Heron, some Shoveller, five Shelduck, eleven Mute Swan and two Red-Crested Pochard. Meanwhile a flock of more than five hundred Lapwing, interspersed with about fifty Golden Plover, continually circled above the lake for ages until finally landing in an adjacent field. I was only at this lake today (24th January) because a dead Swan had been seen there....though despite a thorough search, I was unable to find it! It is possible however, that someone actually removed it from the scene which, in the light of current events in Dorset, would NOT have been the brightest of things to do and could easily have incurred the not inconsiderable wrath of the authorities! Bird-flu is considered to be an extremely serious issue and the implications for the health and welfare of both birds and humans are enormous! If therefore, you happen to stumble across any suspicious-looking dead or dying bird(s) while out and about (other than the usual road-kill casualties) and especially those of a wildfowl persuasion, then leave it or them well alone! In fact, move away immediately and ring the DEFRA Bird-Flu helpline number....0845 9335577. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, ATTEMPT TO PICK IT UP AND/OR TAKE IT HOME WITH YOU IF IT APPEARS TO BE SICK OR INJURED....DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TAKE IT TO YOUR NEAREST VET....DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CONCEAL OR BURY IT.... DO NOT REMOVE IT FROM THE SCENE....DO NOT ALLOW ANY PETS TO INVESTIGATE IT....DO NOT PASS GO....DO NOT COLLECT £200! You should not ring DEFRA if, for example, you run over a pheasant with your car....Apparently, DEFRA gets dozens of such calls every time there's a bird-flu scare from very silly people who accidentally kill a bird and then ring the helpline because they're worried that it might have bird-flu!
Lapwing This is part of the flock of more than five hundred Lapwing and fifty or so Golden Plover (not shown) mentioned in the "More Common Reed" caption above.
Rain Walker I yomped nearly twenty miles today (21st January) in a huge circle....most of it in the rain (some torrential) all of it through mud up to my ankles! I travelled fairly light and I did stop off about half-way around at a garden centre for a coffee....but I'm nearly sixty now and my bones do feel the damp a bit these days! Meanwhile I took this photograph of a distant tree against one of the most extraordinary water-saturated skies I've seen in recent years. It really was this deep cobalt-blue and it swept right over my head! I'm sure that if I'd had a barometer with me, the bottom would have fallen right out of it!
First Winter Juvenile Mutie Ok, so it's just an ordinary old first-Winter juvenile Mute Swan and not a vagrant Red-Flanked Bluetail or somesuch, but I happen to like Swans and I'm not ashamed of it....so tough titties to the twitcher types who have nothing better to do than e-mail me from time to time (last night was the latest) to tell me I should be "up-grading my photographic endeavours to something a bit more interesting than Tits, Teal and Twite! Whatever....Swans are very much in the news again with the H5N1 Swan death-count at Abbotsbury now up to five (as of 18th January)! This beauty however, is as healthy as they come and is part of a seven-strong family group that I've got a soft spot for on the park lake in Stroud. I was there earlier today checking them out after nosing around the lakes at Frampton first thing this morning followed by about five miles of the Sharpness Canal.
Leaf Dessication Obviously an example from my "Pink" period of leaf dessication photographs.
Though sun-kissed and their colour vibrant still Soon wilting petals to the floor will spill
Tumbling perfumed signallers who spoke To Bumble Bees and other insect folk Inviting them to come and sip their fill Of nectar sweet or take it as they will
But sad those pretty flags are spent No signals to the Bees now sent They nod towards their final hour One last gesture as a flower
(From "Nature's Calendar" by Daisy W, my Mum, 1942)
Old Man's Beard.... At least that's the Winter name given to this twining Clematis whose woody stems can sometimes grow up to thirty or forty metres long as they wind their way through our roadside hedgerows and treetops. It was the English botanist John Gerard who originally named it "Traveller's Joy" because, as he put it, "I found it decking and adorning ways and hedges where people travel". There is however, a more traditional, country name for this interesting plant whose greenish-white flowers smell slightly of vanilla...."Boy's Bacca". This hails from the fact that until fairly recently, the dried stems were ground up and smoked in clay pipes by young boys keen to mimic their elders. Just as fascinating (to me anyway), is the fact that beggars, in order to elicit sympathy from passers-by, would rub their arms and legs with fresh twigs from the plant in order to create ulcer-like marks on the flesh! This was actually caused by an irritant in the sap!
Autumn Colour in the Japanese Garden
The Woodland Trust The Woodland Trust is a registered charity responsible for the conservation of precious woodlands across the UK. They have planted more than eight million trees in recent years, creating brand-new woodland or revitalising ancient forests. Their work is of enormous benefit to wildlife and absolutely vital to all those who, like me, simply love trees. Visit their website at.... www.woodlandtrust.org.uk
Autumn Sunset After my Dad died in February 1985, my Mum went into a serious emotional decline. They had married shortly after the War and had always been, to all intents and purposes, soul-mates. She went on to write a handful of poems over the following months that occasionally give some insight into her then state of mind and, despite being fiercely independent, the following verses show how difficult she must have found it to be living alone at that time....particularly during the long, dark, cold Winter evenings. I often find myself taking photographs these days with a view to matching them up with bits and pieces of my Mum's poetry and when I took this photograph yesterday (30th October), I immediately thought of the following, poem that she wrote in the Autumn of 1986. Although she never really got over Dad's death (or Ellie's for that matter), I was greatly relieved when she appeared to find a totally new lease of life as a Grandmother once again following the birth of my son in 1988 and then my daughter in 1992.
As leaves fell like snowflakes And frost chilled the air At the bright Autumn sunsets We'd stand and we'd stare
We'd watch as the wood-smoke Formed drifts of blue mist From the farm 'cross the meadow Like a Will-o'-the-Wisp
Now it's strange....all alone How I feel Autumn's bite And find myself dreading The cold of the night
Soon Winter will knock But he'll find with surprise How he's already here Staring out from my eyes
(Daisy W, Autumn 1986)
Barrow's Goldeneye "Or sadly listen to the tuneless cry Of fishing Gull or clanging Goldeneye" (George Crabbe (1754-1832) I'd love to be able to say that I photographed this Greenlandic/Icelandic bird in its transitional plumage wintering on an open stretch of water somewhere in the UK....but I didn't....the picture is another product of my visit to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetland Centre, Gloucestershire in October 2007. I was passing by and had half an hour to spare and so dropped in to see if anything interesting had flown in....Big mistake! I inevitably find everything interesting at Slimbridge and, despite there being very little to see of a wilder nature, I was still there five hours later!
Autumn I'd stopped to chat to a man in his mid-twenties a couple of days ago and he was going on and on about how he wasn't looking forward to the Winter and that, for him, Autumn merely represented a "depressing time of grey skies and all that bl**dy mess" created by falling leaves. Furthermore, if he could only afford it, he'd be "off tomorrow to live abroad", as far away from "this bl**dy country, the people and everything in it as possible "! Mmm, if truth be known, I couldn't actually imagine someone like him living abroad....it would probably be too bl**dy hot after he'd been there for a while and there'd be too many bl**dy foreigners! As for Autumn being a "depressing time of grey skies"....as I listened to his whinging, I couldn't help but notice the way that the sunlight was singling out one particular leaf in a nearby tree....it seemed to render the young man's words meaningless somehow....so, after he'd gone, I took a picture. We were taught once about possible survival techniques if ever you're taken prisoner, interrogated and held captive for maybe weeks or months at a time. We were told how everyone reacts differently, but that some prisoners are sometimes able to maintain at least a semblance of their sanity by focussing on the smallest, most insignificant of things....things like the daily shadow-trail created by the sunlight coming through your cell window, the habits and routines of your cockroach and spider co-habitants (the ones you don't end up eating) or maybe the gradual decomposition of a single leaf caught in a spider's web. It sounds ridiculous, but paying close attention to the simplest and most mundane of things or events really can be the difference between madness and survival. What I think I'm trying to say is that perhaps lots of us do that kind of thing automatically on a daily basis and that what are probably seemingly "insignificant" things to most are, to some, far more important and that where one man or woman will see nothing but grey skies, others will search for the sunlight on the leaf! To me, such things are the toe-holds on the clff-face of life and I firmly believe that, subsequent to the events of 1976, it was my inbuilt ability to pay attention to the details of the Natural World in particular that enabled me to climb at least part-way out of the abyss into which I'd fallen and that these days, I find it very difficult to tolerate people who find themselves so overwhelmed by grey skies!
Rock Dove To compliment the photo of the black and white Town or Feral Pigeon (opposite), here's one from my archives....I believe that this is a genuine, but extremely scarce these days, Rock Dove. I took it a couple of years ago on Dunnet Head at the extreme Northern tip of Scotland just a few miles from John O'Groats. It was a good trip all round as I also managed to get reasonable pictures of Scottish Crossbill, Great Skua and Puffin during the time we were up there.
Purple Beauty I think (though I'm not 100% certain by any means) that this is some type of Aster. A whole bunch of them were growing in one shady corner of Malvern's pretty Priory Park. This particular flower was being illuminated for just a few minutes by sunlight filtering down through the tree canopy above, but my attention had been drawn to it originally by the antics of a black and white Town Pigeon (shown opposite) who was busy jumping up and down to peck at the flower heads over and over again. This seemed to be very strange behaviour for a Pigeon and, unfortunately, it stopped the moment I tried to get closer to take a photograph!
Kniphofia No, not Mark Kniphofia, founder member of Dire Straits (or is it Straights?), but a plant also known as Red-Hot Poker or Torch Lily. In fact, this garden delight is a common sight (or is it site?) in towns and villages all over the UK. Strangely however, I'm beginning to see this distinctive deciduous perennial brightening up the countryside (though where they're coming from and how they get there is a mystery to me), but I do like seeing them nonetheless. This one was growing quite happily behind an old disused barn in the middle of nowhere a few miles from Boscastle in North Cornwall.
Late Summer Ranger Stuff in Tintagel and Boscastle on the "Green" page
Wild Chicory Without a doubt, Wild Chicory (or Succory as it's sometimes called) is only just beaten into second place by the brilliant Dog Rose as being my favourite of all 2,500 species of wildflower to be found in the UK....I love the bright, sky-blue colour of the strap-like ray florets which, in itself, is a most unusual colour for any member of the Daisy family! Originally a native of the Far East, this late Summer Bloomer (which tends to open its flowers only in the morning), is still cultivated (though mostly abroad) as a salad vegetable....I like to add a few Chicory leaves to my own salad from time to time. However, it's the root of the plant that is best known to people as a flavour-additive for coffee or as a coffee substitute. In fact, I'm sipping from a mug full of my own, home-made Chicory-flavoured brew right now as I type this very piece and which I made by drying, roasting and then grinding a selection of younger-looking Chicory roots that I gathered earlier in the week....Mmm, tasteee!
Great Burnet Great Burnet is one of a number of wildflowers that we are asked to monitor during the late Summer months as we go about our daily routines. Concerns have been raised recently because of an alarming decline in its numbers over the past thirty years or so....something which seems to be commensurate with the increased efficiency of modern farming methods. Basically, we make a simple note of how many individual plants we stumble across and where they're located and then pass the information on. Mind you, Great Burnet was never considered to be a particularly prolific plant and has always been most commonly found in very localized, damp grassland areas across much of central England....especially on chalky soils. However, during the last few years, we've been noticing more and more specimens apparently trying to overcome the threat to their survival by gradually spreading into slightly more challenging (for them) environments....the plant in the photograph (above) was flowering quite happily on a very dry wasteland area and was a long way from either running or surface water....plus it had rooted in limestone soil which, although not entirely unknown, is fairly unusual. Predictably perhaps, herbalists of long ago, while compiling The "Doctrine of Signatures", advocated the use of Great Burnet as a means of staunching excessive blood-flow from wounds (simply because the flower petals are a deep crimson colour just like blood) as well as a remedy for internal bleeding. Meanwhile, the peeled root was thought to relieve pain when applied to burns.
Barn Owl This photograph was taken in the "Hereford Owl Rescue" exhibition tent during the "Festival of Wood" at Westonbirt Arboretum near Tetbury. More photographs of this bird are on the "Sculpture" page and information about "Hereford Owl Rescue" itself can be found on their website at www.herefordowlrescue.co.uk
The Last Flower This was the very last flower showing on a large specimen of Bristly Ox-Tongue. All the others had long-gone to seed, while several sections of the rest of the plant were beginning to decay quite rapidly! It seemed to have no right to be so perfect....there was a real air of "determination in the face of all odds" about it so I took a photograph to immortalize its defiance!
Westonbirt Arboretum's "Festival of Wood" on the "Sculpture" page
Lesser Burdock Perhaps, like me, you were one of those 'orrible little urchins at primary school who used to delight in throwing Burdock burrs or "Sticky-Buttons" as we called them, at the girls, hoping that they'd get tangled up in the wool of their cardigans or, better still, in their hair....happy days! Oh well, I'm all grown up now and I haven't done things like that for months! Throwing grass-seed darts at each other was another favourite if I remember correctly....though someone always ended up in casualty with a section of grass dart stuck firmly in their ear and then all the boys in the school would be kept in at lunchtimes for a week following the usual lecture from headmaster, Mr "Bright 'n' Breezy" Wright, about our ungentlemanly behaviour towards the "fairer/weaker sex" (not including Margery Bolton of course because she always started it, but never got punished of course because she was a....girrrl!). Anyhoo, apart from its well documented projectile capabilities, Burdock has also been a very useful plant to have around from a medicinal point of view....Burdock juice is said to alleviate the symptoms of both snake bites and bites from rabid dogs and I believe that similar "cures" are still applied in some of the more rural areas on the Continent. Burdock juice is also a renowned soothant of sores, scalds and burns and I was once obliged to apply a slightly diluted version to the back and hind-quarters of a Yorkshire Terrier that belonged to a young couple who had taken it with them on their first ever back-packing holiday in the Lake District. The dog had managed to knock an unsupervised pan of scalding-hot water onto itself from the top of its owner's little primus stove and I still remember to this day how the animal's screams echoed up and down the valley! Unfortunately, we were miles from the nearest town....let alone a vet! Mobile phones hadn't been invented back then and everyone else on the unofficial little camp-site was also a back-packer, so no-one had any transport! The dog had been scalded really badly and was already blistering all across its back, so I decided to butt-in and, after first calming the panicking owners down a bit, I got them to submerge the animal up to its neck for a couple of minutes in the ice-cold little stream that hopped and skittered out of the mountains and through the site. Meanwhile, I got busy gathering a couple of armfuls of Burdock growing nearby and quickly managed to squeeze almost half a cupful of juice from the plants which I then mixed with a little water and applied very carefully to the worst of the dog's scalds. Even I was impressed then however, by the rapid and positive effect that the improvised soothant appeared to have on the animal and I was delighted to see that it had completely calmed down by the time I came to dress the worst of its injuries with a soggy splodge of half-chewed Burdock leaves held in place by my one and only roll of crepe bandage and some duct-tape taken from my little first-aid kit....These days, I prefer to carry a small tube of flamazene instead....and "two" rolls of bandage. With the dog now settled (though still whimpering miserably to itself from time to time) and a sense of normality restored, I stowed my things away in my tent and helped the couple to carry the dog about four miles down to the nearest road where I stopped a car and they were able to hitch a lift into the nearest town (Keswick I think it was) to find a vet....funny though, I can't help wondering sometimes what the vet would have made of all that gooey mess revealed when he or she eventually came to remove the bandage! PLEASE NOTE....It's very important to remember that if you take an animal with you on holiday, then you must make absolutely certain that you are suitably equipped to deal with any emergency that may befall it and not just those emergencies that might befall you!
Small Emerald Having a small woodlet at the end of the garden does mean that a gem like the one pictured above will occasionally find its way into the house during the Summer through the open windows. Moths in particular are attracted to the various house-lights switched on at night and this special little beauty appeared suddenly in an upstairs bedroom last night (mid-July). The Small Emerald Moth is slightly less common than its bigger cousin the Large Emerald and tends to be restricted more to the South of the UK and to the Cotswolds especially. Its equally pale-green larva can, more often than not, be found feeding on Old Man's Beard....possibly explaining the near complete demise of the beard in modern times!
Soldiers or Cardinals? Anyone who actually bothers to read any of the stuff I put on my websites will be well aware that I know next to nothing about insects (crikey, I can't even spell entomolology!) and identifying the bugs in the above picture is a good case in point. In fact, I'm not entirely sure whether these guys are Soldier or Cardinal Beetles (both of which have many variations), but if my mortgage depended on it, then I'd say that they're the former rather than the latter because, 1....they have red on their legs, 2....that's what I've called them since I was a kid and D....there were lots of them mating on a variety of umbellifer and it's fairly well known that any Soldier Beetle lucky enough to have a three-day pass, money to burn and nothing but "lurve" on its mind will head straight for the nearest Insect-world equivalent of "Lover's Lane"....to get laid!
Large Skipper Looking like some sort of futuristic jet fighter, this Large Skipper Butterfly (above) was taking a few moments out to have a good old preen while sunbathing on a Bramble leaf. Despite their vaguely super-sonic look, all members of the Skipper family have a fairly eratic and darting flight pattern and are frustratingly difficult to track when you're trying to take a photograph of one! Meanwhile, the disappointingly poor picture below is from my "Butterfly and Moth" archives, but it too, shows a Large Skipper sunbathing on a Bramble leaf.
Foxglove A flower that derives its name from lots of Foxes running around the countryside wearing gloves? Er....not exactly! More likely, the name is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon "gliew"....a musical instrument comprised of many small bells and "folk's"....meaning "Little Folk" or "Fairies". This might also account for the fact that in places like Somerset, England and in Ireland, the plant is still called "Fairy Bells". It's worth mentioning perhaps, that the Foxglove is actually very poisonous, although it's also a source for the drug "digitalis", a stimulant used in small doses for the treatment of heart complaints.
"The Trouble with Hemlock" on the "Sculpture and" page
Rain-Drenched Ivy-Leaved Toadflax Like the non-related Ivy plant, this pretty little climber loves nothing more than to ramble in and out of the cracks and crevices of old moss-covered walls....and there are plenty of those in the Cotswolds. The flowers behave in a very clever way by turning outwards towards the sun to increase their chances of insect pollination and then turn back inwards towards a crevice in the wall once pollinated so that they are best placed to lodge their seeds. Covered in water like this, the flowers in the picture remind me of modern cars that often look as though they've been slightly over-inflated by someone with a bicycle pump!
"Swamp Spider" mystery solved (thanks to Nobby) at the end of the "Spring in Devon" article on the "Survival Guide Thingy" page.
Brown-Lipped Snail This is a very common species of Snail, but possibly this particular individual happens to be one with a little more artistic flair, judging by the way it's managed to frame itself in the knot of this old tree trunk.
Gaping Dunnock Chick With three mouths like this to feed all of a sudden, the pair of Dunnocks nesting in my garden aren't going to have a moment to themselves for some time to come! (There are more pictures included in the 18th May entry on the "Diary and General Stuff" page).
Catkins on Water
Ox-eye Daisy Plus Good old Oedemera nobilis The little Beetle pictured here loves to feed on flower pollen. It's very common, but rather oddly, doesn't have a common name (unless you count "False Oil Beetle")....perhaps it should be called the "Jodhpur Beetle"....except that only the males have the swollen hind femora, but then, that's men for you!
River Water-Crowfoot A firm favourite of the poet William Barnes, River Water-Crowfoot (not to be confused with either Common or Thread-Leaved Water-Crowfoot) is a lover of fast-moving rivers and streams. Sadly, with the introduction of yield-intensive, chemical-based farming methods in the 1970s, the entire Water-Crowfoot family began to suffer as a wide cocktail of substances gradually found their way into our country-side waterways. Things have improved considerably in recent years however and I'm beginning to see a lot more of the Common, River and Thread-leaved varieties in all sorts of places. I took the photograph above near Ampney St. Peter on a walk following the course of Ampney Brook from Cirencester to Cricklade (about nine miles if you count all the twiddly bits).
Embryonic River Isis No, this isn't the Florida Everglades or somewhere in the depths of darkest Borneo....it's just one small corner somewhere in the Cotswold Water Park in Spring and just a few metres from a Nightingale's nest.
St. Andrew's Church, Cold Aston I love really old buildings, especially churches and I spend a fair amount of time photographing them from every conceivable angle. The graveyards too are particularly interesting places, crammed with fascinating social history and home to a rich cocktail of local wildlife. I've uploaded a few photographs of predominantly Cotswold village churches on the "General Diary Stuff" page together with one or two of the more interesting facts about each one.
In view of the fact that my knowledge of all things wildflowery is best described as "5/10, must try harder" and at worst, "downright criminal", I would like to mention how indebted I have been over the past few years to John Akeroyd's "Encyclopaedia of Wildflowers" for both the trickier identification problems and general information.
Caravan Site Robin This bright-eyed little Robin was absolutely convinced that he was the sole owner of the caravan site that I stayed at in Devon in April and flew off to inspect each and every new caravan arrival as it was being set-up. He also sang very loudly at 0600hrs each morning from a favoured tree branch strategically growing just a couple of metres above the open skylight in the roof of my motor-home. Plus (and just in case I might be foolish enough to try sleeping through this particular Erathacus rubecula's enthusiastic out-pouring) he was invariably joined by the site's typically vocal and incessantly repetitive Chiff-Chaff (see below) perched only a few branches higher up in the same tree!
Caravan Site Chiff-Chaff Chiff-Chaffs actually repeat their "chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff" call/song an average of 5,000 times each day for the first few weeks after acquiring a territory and that makes counting them a whole lot easier if you're doing surveys and stuff.
"So what's in 'ere then....?"
Now this is what I call a "wild" Grape Hyacinth....photographed barely a mile from the tiny village of Cold Aston, the deep royal-blue colouring of this particular member of the Lily family suggests that, not only is this a very fertile flower, but it's probably a genuinely wild one as well!
Leaf-Cutter Bee I took this picture on 11th April and it's worth pointing out that the majority of L C Bees aren't usually out and about until May. I also think it's fair to say that lots of stuff will be up and about earlier in the year than would normally be the case after a mild Winter, but this year, I'd say that just about everything is an average of at least three weeks ahead of schedule....and that's far more universally significant! Meanwhile, the Leaf-Cutter isn't a Bee that I see all that often in my garden, probably because I don't have any Rose bushes....the leaves of which it cuts neatly into tiny semi-circular discs for carrying off to its nest where it uses them to make little cells for housing its developing larvae.
The Wood Anemone, of which my Mum once wrote when she was a schoolgirl....
Little "Windflower" that dances in the breeze Tries so hard the passer-by to please And like the yellow Primrose flower Of Springs' arrival marks the hour.
Not too bad for a thirteen year-old working-class girl growing up in the early 1930s. I've got tons of her poetry written in her impeccable hand on all sorts of odd bits of paper (including scraps of old wallpaper) and nearly always on the subject of Nature.
Marsh Marigolds In Ireland, Marsh Marigolds are either known as Lus bui Bealtaine or May-Flower and were used in days gone by during May-Day festivals to ward off evil spirits. The entire plant is poisonous and is carefully avoided by all grazing animals. Strangely, Marsh Marigold "petals" aren't petals at all, but sepals! These specimens were part of a large group growing at the edge of a pond on the village green at Frampton-upon-Severn.
Black Stork at Cotswold Wildlife Park
"An Afternoon at the Cotswold Wildlife Park" on the "Survival Guide Thingy" page
Lambs-Tail Catkins Catkins of any species were always important features of any junior school nature table....that is, back in the days before nature tables came to be thought of as environmentally unfriendly. Now, of course, kids can learn all there is to know about Nature from their TVs and the internet and need never leave either their bedrooms or their classrooms! Some of the youngsters in my own country village struggle these days to tell the difference between a Fleabane and a flea-bite!....What price progress? Thank goodness for such brilliant wildlife educational fortresses as the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust or the RSPB nature reserves where truck-loads of Nature-starved school kids can go to learn loads about all sorts of wild stuff!
Surely, hands-on type study is vital for the education of our youth, especially when it comes to the Natural World! However, when I was recently asked to organize a Nature field-trip and study-day for a class of twenty five educationally challenged primary school children from a special needs school near Hereford, I ended up taking just eleven pupils, a teacher (who was worried that she might get her skirt muddy....I made sure everyone got muddy!) and two "mum-type helpers"....who mistakenly thought I would be doing most of the field-study from the classroom by bringing stuff in for the kids to examine and that we'd only be going outside for a little walk later on to maybe look at some trees....duh!
Why only eleven children do I hear you ask? Well, four were excused because they suffered with asthma, two brought notes from their parents saying they weren't to go in case they "caught" asthma (true), one because she didn't like cows and stuff, two because they forgot to bring suitable clothing and footwear (it was raining a bit), two more who were absent that day anyway and three boys who were so excited about going that they ended up throwing storm-force eleven wobblies and had to stay behind for everyone else's good!
Oh well, eleven is a nice number for a field trip and we all had a really nice day "discovering" all kinds of bits and bobs. As for something a little bit special....they watched gob-smacked from a distance as I demonstrated how to walk right up to a wild rabbit without it running away and then got them all to within thirty metres of a small herd of wild Roe Deer totally unheard and unseen . I was very impressed with those kids....I don't think they'd ever concentrated on doing something so hard or for so long in their entire lives....or got quite so wet and muddy....and they loved every minute of it!
February Iris Do I remember reading somewhere that Irises shouldn't bloom until May? (There's another shot of this fantastic flower on the "Blue and Purple" page).
Pussy Willow Catkins As a boy, apart from Christmas parties and sports days, the only thing I really enjoyed about primary school was being put in sole charge of the Nature Table....The displays I created were veritable works of art and included all sorts of interesting sticky, smelly and sometimes wriggly bits and bobs that I would bring into school and label up. This was long before environmental PC had been invented and the teachers were always very keen to have me doing my "thing" for two reasons....firstly, the displays never failed to impress visiting parents, governors and school inspectors and, secondly, it kept the "difficult" child busy and fairly quiet!
Pussy Willow was always a prominent feature as we moved into Spring and I made sure that I had examples of both male and female varieties. The ones in the picture are male and started erupting from their buds towards the end of February! At the moment, they are covered in silvery hairs, but they will eventually be covered by a multitude of the more familiar yellow stamens. Pussy Willow is perhaps, more correctly called Great Sallow, but I grew up calling it Goat Willow.
"Oi Birder-boy....I said no publicity!"
February Crocus....Crocuses....Crocai....Crocae....Crocussesses....February Flowers!
"No Larry, I said don't look now....Anyway, from what I hear, they're lettin' 'im 'ave three bl***y websites....THREE!"
"What's up Doc?"
More bloomin' spring flowers!
A very pretty bird, the Goldfinch invades my garden during the winter in sizeable, squabbly flocks to take advantage of the Niger seed I put out for them. By spring, most of the birds have returned to the out-lying woodlands and hedgerows with just a pair or two choosing to nest in the immediate neighbourhood.
Yes, that's me fresh-faced and oh so young with my faithful Kodak Instamatic, circa 1972/1973 and practically a hippy with all that hair! Just months after I left zoo-keeping, I think I was at art college when someone took this picture. It wasn't a particularly happy time and I soon got thrown out! See "Slices", Chapter 18 at www.wildliferanger.co.uk
Yarrow with more than a tinge of pink
Overgrown Trail When a woodland trail stops being used, its not long before it succumbs to a rich variety of vegetation. I also think that if automobiles of all description somehow disappeared overnight, then at least 90% of our subsequently unused tarmac highways and byways would disappear beneath an impenetrable tangle of overgrowth within as little as four or five years!