I feed the birds and in return they bring a welcome chirping, chattering, multicoloured aerial display to the garden. Even in the depths of winter I can look through the window and see the brilliant reds, blues, greens and yellows of their plumage like a string of dancing baubles on the branches of my gnarled and leafless cherry trees.
We haven’t hit winter yet, summer is holding on and the continued warmth has brought a bumper harvest of haws and berries but the birds are very choosy, ignoring nature’s table to feast non-stop on their favourite food – sunflower hearts.
Not all of the seeds make their way into the hungry birds; the finches are especially messy so the garden is awash with random sunflowers and the sunflowers are full of fuzzy bumble bees, just like the one in this photo.
We get some beautiful sunsets looking down through the Teme valley and across to the Bromyard Downs but nine times out of ten I don’t have my camera with me. Last night the cloud formations and colours were too good to miss so I stopped the car at the edge of a field and took this photo with my phone. On my way back home from Tenbury the mist was drawing in and no evidence of this image remained. Tonight I can see a pale pink glow out to the west but nothing so beautiful as last night’s sunset.
I’ve liked these birds for as long as I can remember. As a child I’d scan the shoreline hoping to see one flying low over the sea or popping up like a dart after what seemed an inordinate amount of time under the water.
In some parts of Norway cormorants are a sign of good luck and folklore also suggests people lost at sea may return to their former homes in the shape of a cormorant. In the epic tale of Ulysses, a sea nymph disguised herself as a cormorant and offered him a float when the mast of his raft was smashed in a storm. Ulysses swam safely ashore. Like other animals cormorants have been persecuted by ill-informed humans who thought the birds took too many fish. Fortunately our ignorance hasn’t served to make them all extinct. In Japan and China cormorants were kept by fisherman who realised the birds could help in their endeavours; the fishermen kept the largest fish while the cormorant was allowed to eat the smaller ones.
Cormorants are still one of my favourite seabirds and this rock in Bideford bay is a popular resting place for them. They sit here uninterrupted with waves crashing around them as they wait for their plumage to dry.
These large red damselflies are one of the first dragonfly creatures to emerge near the pond in Spring. Remarkably they spend around two years as an underwater nymph, clinging to submerged vegetation and eating small passing creatures before they transform from the exuvia stage and leave the water. They emerge as adults when the weather begins to warm and daylight hours extend. It’s thought they’re susceptible to global warming as they’re present in mainland Europe almost a month earlier now than would previously have been the case.
These damselflies are easy to identify due to their bright red colour. They tend to frequent the same places year after year and the males can be territorial (attacking other types of damselfly and pushing them to the ground or into the water). The large red damselfly spends most of its life as a rather ordinary-looking browny-green larva; it lives for just around a month in its more eye-catching flight-capable form.
These creatures are seasonal and their presence as graceful, brightly coloured adult visitors is limited. They begin to disappear during mid-late August and by September they’re usually all gone, a sure sign that another Autumn is on the way.
Gruinard Bay from Laide
I grew up in the suburbs of the UK’s tenth largest city, a tangle of Victorian houses, post-war prefabs, red brick estates and late ’50’s high rise flats. Though my origins are those of a city-dweller my heart seeks out unspoilt wildernesses, rugged coastlines and far-reaching vistas as this photograph of the Scottish Highlands illustrates.
This is a view from the tiny village of Laide in the north-west Highlands out across Gruinard Bay. In the distance is Gruinard Island, a site of WWII biological warfare testing. The island was quarantined for 48 years following the release of anthrax spores. Fortunately it has been decontaminated and no longer poses a threat. The sheep used as test subjects in the 1940’s were not so lucky.
During the last ice age this area was pushed down by the weight of huge sheets of ice but over a period of several thousand years it’s been undergoing post-glacial rebound – a phenomenon where the land moves upwards relative to sea-level. Here the rate of change is around 5cm per 100 years.
Scotland isn’t often thought of as somewhere sunny and bright but when I visited Laide (in the month of February – technically still winter) I was met with beautiful blue skies, warm sunshine and starry evenings. Just perfect!
The Road to Aberystwyth
A couple of weeks ago I needed to collect a bike from Wales. Rather than taking the direct route back I journeyed up the coast, stopped off in Aberaeron for a honey ice cream (the local speciality which is simply delicious!) and then travelled further along the coast to Aberystwyth.
Aberystwyth was badly affected by the New Year storms that led us from 2013 to 2014 and many properties along the seafront were still boarded up as I passed through.
On my way back I took the A44 expecting it to be a reasonably fast, but not too scenic route. How wrong I was! Although the road is quite fast the scenery doesn’t disappoint and having happened across this valley, I couldn’t resist the temptation to stop and take photos. It really is this green and the photo doesn’t do it credit.
Although the British Isles is small compared to mainland Europe and minuscule compared to Australia or the USA, there are truly wonderful areas of countryside, beautiful coastlines, buzzing cities and plenty of culture to explore. It’s not the warmest or driest place in the world but we have to count our blessings – we don’t get typhoons, bush fires, tsunamis or serious earthquakes either.
In the garden there’s an olive tree. Sadly it doesn’t bear olives because the climate isn’t warm enough to support them, even though the tree itself does just fine.
While looking at this year’s new growth I noticed this well camouflaged green orb weaver spider. I know spiders aren’t everyone’s favourite creature but I’ve always found them fascinating and this one is a very fetching shade of green.
I get a lot of spiders at home but most of those I find in the garden (and the bathroom) are big, brown and hairy. Some bathroom spiders are very big and very fast, ideally suited to frightening the life out of spider-hating visitors from the city who aren’t used to the range of critters you share your home with when you live in the countryside.
This almost fluorescent green arachnid wasn’t what I expected to discover hanging out in the olive tree. It’s such an attractive colour and so well adapted to its habitat that I couldn’t resist taking its photograph. Notice it’s already caught its lunch? That’s the reason I never allow spiders to be killed… Lots of spiders in and around the house = very few flies :-)