August, 2009


We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Notes on nature

We love nature... from every little bug on a blade of grass to birds, butterflies, otters and oaks!
  • Messing about on the river

    Mr Toad loved messing about on the river in Kenneth Grahame’s classic ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and I would love to have joined him and his friends.

    You see, I’ve grown up in a watery landscape, so I absolutely adore rivers. I’ve travelled along rivers on five continents, but the gentle, dark rivers of my East Anglian homeland are my favourite. Ancient willows dip their droopy branches into the water in the breeze like children testing the temperature of the sea with their toes. The black shadows they cast play tricks on the mind masquerading as otters, water voles, giant pikes and tench. Water flows slowly in these flat lands, so any movement catches the eye, raising hopes for something special.

    Yesterday evening, I watched my neighbour make his daily after work visit to the pub and then strolled down to the River Ouse. I found a quiet spot, sat down and for an hour, dangled my legs over the edge and waited. I waited and I watched and it was wonderful.

    A young kingfisher plopped into the water 50 yards upstream. Five times I counted it diving headfirst into a sparkling, sunlit pool of water beneath one of those mighty willows I mentioned. Five times it emerged empty beaked. It was playing. I don’t think it was even hungry; just practising its fishing skills.

    Some time later, a dazzling adult sped past, piping shrilly, almost saying ‘this is how you do it!’ as a silver tiddler shone in its beak.

    When you sit and wait, you notice more and the river was peaceful, but full of life. A brood of young sparrowhawks called from an old osier bed. A treecreeper kept me company, probing twisted gnarled old bark with its beak. A banded demoiselle damselfly chugged past. Two herons flapped downstream on giant wings, their harsh calls disturbing the peace. A fish leapt clean out of the water in front of me, sucking up a fly in mid-air with a kissing noise - too quick for me to see what sort of fish it was and too quick for the fly.

    An hour passed and I reluctantly got to my feet and walked the mile back home. Maybe I’ll head down to the river again tonight. Better still, why don’t you? I’d love to know what your favourite watery place is and what you’ve seen.


  • The ghost and the yellow underwing

    I was at a wedding in Wales this weekend - it was a brilliant and beautiful day, with no embarrassing dancing, drunk Uncles, or Conga-lines in sight!Large yellow underwing moth

    However, the weekend didn't pass without drama - luckily, it just waited to happen once we were back at our B&B the next morning.

    Feeling only a little worse for wear, I woke to find my roommate, Rose, scrabbling around her bed muttering about not being able to find either her jewellery bag, one earring (!), her blusher, her mirror, or her deodrant, all of which in our hurry to make the wedding on time she had left either on top of the chest of drawers, or on the floor.

    After her hundredth 'but where could that have gone?', she finally turned to the chest of drawers, and opening the top drawer found all of the missing items neatly arranged, and definitely not missing. Adamant she hadn't put them in there, we joked that being in the attic room we were always ripe for having a ghostly visit, though we weren't expecting it would be one who obviously liked to tidy up after the guests!

    Later, while Rose was recounting her strange experience to one of our other friends, Claire, and I was finishing packing my things away, I heard a yelp.

    With a pounding heart, and worried that I too was obivously about to see an apparition (why else would they scream?!), I turned round to see both Rose and Claire drop to the floor.

    I was very relieved to see that what had scared them was only a moth, which must have flown directly at their heads, spooking them at just the point when they were talking about ghosts.

    I didn't get a very good view of the moth, but the flashes of orange and its large size told me it was probably a large yellow underwing. Although a fairly common and widespread sight in Britain, I'd not seen one before. Our brief encounter rounded off what had been an excellent few days, and brightened up the greyness of the morning we had woken up to.

    You'll be pleased to know that the moth escaped through an open window, none the worse for being screamed at.

    We, on the other hand, still aren't quite sure whether we had a ghostly encounter, or not......

    Have you ever been scared by a wildlife encounter? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

  • Cutting back

    We all know that a little bit of untidiness is good for all sorts of bugs and birds, but every garden needs a bit of a tidy up now and again doesn't it?

    My buddleia bushes have been decorated with a host of butterflies for the last month (it’s been a fabulous year for them hasn’t it?), but long, tired branches nodding under the weight of dead, brown flowerheads signalled pruning time. As I chopped back the excess, some purple and white sparkled among the brown – fresh flowers! It seemed such a shame to literally cut them off in their prime, so I left them be and carried on pruning carefully around them.

    I admired my handiwork later and noticed that the four small flowerheads I’d left were each balancing a butterfly: a painted lady, two large whites and a small tortoiseshell to be precise. None were at their best, but this made it more pleasing giving these worn, tatty individuals a hand, when it would have been easy to put tidiness first.

    They stayed around all afternoon, sipping at the nectar, proving that a little help goes a long way. Lots of us feed the birds in our gardens when natural food is scarce, but it's hard for these last butterflies, and other insects, to find food with fewer flowers around in late summer.

    Were you out in your garden over the weekend making the most of the sunshine? Why not let us know what you got up to, or what jobs you've got planned before the end of the summer?