Rhododendron Ponticum

May 22, 2015

(Stock photo from Google)

(Stock photo from Google)

The hills are alive with the purple of this Rhododendron. When my favoured route to Tescoville used to run through Slough, this time of year one really was driving through groves of this stuff, purple on both sides of the road. My favoured route has changed, and while it’s not quite as common, it’s still very notible.

Favoured route here means a route to take when the M25 is completely clogged up, which is most weekday evenings.

A couple of years or so ago, at this time of the year, a group of us went to a car breaker based in Yorkshire. One of the group looked up at the hills and admired the colour of the Heather – so I had to correct him in that the colour now was Rhododendrum runaways, Heather didn’t come out until August. For reasons of my father being a Beekeeper, and one year I helped out in a general treck taking the bees up to the Heather moors (in the late 1980s), I knew the Heather starts in August. Bees are taken there partly as the main crop in the South of England has ended, and partly because Heather Honey is widely praised. It also has some interesting physical properties – it is thixotropic, for a start. Hum, interesting rare word used in English containing the letter “x”…I digress.

It is amazing just how invasive plants have come to dominate some areas. (This is also true for insects and even some Deer species). Red Valarian is a pest in Tescoville, as indeed is Japanese Knotweed, I remember seeing it in the town centre in the 1970s, and it was a pest then!. Fortunately the latter is nowhere near anywhere of my responsibility, though there are enough other pests to keep me occupied. I did try and kill off a clump when I rented a house in Cambridge, but wasn’t there long enough to know whether I’d even killed off the lot in the garden let alone everywhere else in the area. Rhododendron is a pest in the woodland in the greater Tescoville area, but also all around the country.

Waitrose Pigeons

May 21, 2015

WR_pigeon

In another of my awful photos to be blogged is this one, taken earlier this evening. My better camera phone is the older mobile, which runs out of power very quickly, and indeed had run out of power, so I had to resort to the newer, but not so good one. I had popped into a local supermarket (being en-route home), to get something to eat for tonight. As I was leaving towards the car park, I had heard some odd tweets (the bird song kind). As I walked out of the automatic door, it was even more noticable. Looking up, I found a pigeon’s nest above the door, with one or two youngers with an adult. So I tried to take a photo (the nest is top right). I didn’t use flash as that might have scared the birds (even if people consider them close to vermin).

Oddly enough, no-one else who walked past me in the five minutes I was there – I also was using my mobile to try and check to see if an eagerly awaited email had arrived, which proved to be quite a task – no-one else noticed, or at least showed any interest at all to the tweets of the chicks, The adult was keeping quiet, and probably trying to keep the chicks quiet as well. It noticed me, which was one reason I did not use the flash on the camera phone.

These pigeons are the common variety, that have been at home in the suburbs and cities for decades if not hundreds of years. It is a different species to the Wood Pigeons which now are conquering the suburbs . Also, the Wood Pigeons still seem to maintain their distinctive plummage, whereas the Common Pigeons are far scruffier, probably akin to their many more generations living in cities.

As has been my want in the past few years, during the summer time regime (the clocks an hour forward), I take a walk at my favourate countryside spot every Saturday evening. Frequently that means no-one else around, and that’s how I like it. I noticed last Saturday that some of the early purple orchids are already showing (their blotchy leaves are very distinctive), but in other places where they have been plentiful in the past few years, nothing. A few wild strawberries in bloom. Cowslips just starting to fade (no primroses at this site for some reason, but massive clumps of cowslips)

Primula Veris

Back at the house I inherited, when I last lived there, we only got to see Swifts at an Aunt’s house (very close to the favourate countryside spot), but these days they are in the skys above the house. So what with the Robins and Blackbirds singing on and off from 5am to now (21:15), the wood pigeons and collared doves, Red Kites all singing away (plus many others on occasion), the soundscape is much more varied – but plus emergency services sirens, reversing lorry warnings, footballs hitting my cars – in a rather more built up surburbia than this identical spot 25 years ago.

Meanwhile in the garden is my “Red Cowslip”.

redcowslip

It’s been here for at least 20 years, sometimes I dig up one of the daughters to try and propagate it, but haven’t really succeed with that, being in the lawn it sometimes gets cut down. A few years ago it was a sizeable clump, but it’s currently down to these two plants.

The local wildlife.

April 19, 2015

Having taken possession of the house I grew up in, and there is a lot to do. But it has struck me how the local wildlife has changed.

Thirty or fourty years ago, there were house sparrows and starlings, with the “cheep” of the former being very loud in the summer, and the mimicry of the starlings sometimes causing confusion – immitating car alarms, telephone rings etc. Along with these were blackbirds, robins and the occasional finch.

These days the bird population is completely different. The blackbirds and robins are still around, and the occasional sparrow, but now it’s wood pigeons and collared doves that make all the noise. Magpies, chaffinches and wrens are also seen and heard, and there were blue tits but I’ve not seen one this year so far.

While wheeling above them all are the red kites. A few days ago there must have been twenty or more red kites trying to get something from a garden – diving down, swooping back up – it was quite a sight. But if I got too close, in order to try and take a photo, they stopped what they were doing, and moved away – only to return once I had gone.

Some of the twenty or more Red Kites performing aerobatics or perhaps trying to pick up some food...

Some of the twenty or more Red Kites performing aerobatics or perhaps trying to pick up some food…

I know that these are little better than silouettes, and I’ve had to crop the image quite a lot to not upset bad neighbour, but you can see one Red Kite diving down. I never saw any of them actually pick anything up, and it was the second time in three days I saw them doing these aerobatics above the same garden.

Interestingly, other wildlife seems quite unperturbed

A wood pigeon on the roof apex, apparently unconcerned at the aerobatics of the Red Kites around it.

A wood pigeon on the roof apex, apparently unconcerned at the aerobatics of the Red Kites around it.

A couple of years ago I was almost hit by a couple of red kites, one chasing the other, I was amazed that they’d get so close to a human – literally inches away from me, a spectacular piece of flying. The same day I saw what I discovered to be a moth fly into the garden, hover (like a hummingbird) by a flower, and then fly off again.

Other wildlife has changed. There were and are foxes, hedgehogs, but rats are more noticable these days – there is some scrub land, apparently belonging to no-one – at the end of the garden, so no surprise where the rats probably reside.. There is the odd squirrel. Even at night things have changed, as I’ve heard owls and seen bats these days, I never remember seeing them here before. One of the local cats – no one really knows which family it resides with – managed to catch (probably) a rat recently – it was night, but I was awake, and I heard its triumphant cry.

As far as plants are concerned, the pests include some kind of (wild) geranium, a monster form of hairy bitter cress, the ash and sycamores (the original trees probably were planted, their seedlings a constant menace), but bad neighbour had an pyramidal orchid growing in their unmown front lawn. I felt guilty in pointing it out, as the next day they just mowed the strip of lawn with that poor orchid in. There are the garden escapees, thankfully the nearest Japanese knotweed is about half a mile away at present, but several other plant thugs are present.

Ophrys apifera

July 28, 2013

Otherwise known as Bee Orchid

beeorchid0629

40-odd years ago, there was a school class competition to identify as many wild flowers as could be found. A copy of the Rev Keble Martin’s ‘Concise British Flora in Colour’ was the ‘Bible’ to rule out garden escapees. I later was given a 1/3rd size paperback copy of the book, which I still have.

Then you were supposed to pick a flower to show you had found it – mostly illegal these days, but also just about everyone has a camera with their mobile phone (as the picture above) so there is no need to pick the flower (although I have seen evidence of picked flowers).

Over that weekend, my family went to what is now my favourate location, and there, in the middle of the path, was a Bee Orchid. I could not believe it, but nor could I say anything about it.

The path had been diverted away from where the orchid had been many years ago, and in any case there were many years in between when wild flowers that I knew used to be there – cowslips, for example – had disappeared.

After the death of my mother, my brother and I went for a walk there, partly as a memorial walk. Walking along what is a new path, provided by the landowner in order to enclose much of the land, I suddenly noticed a rather familar form – it was a bee orchid, post flower, with seed pods – again, in the middle of the path.

So last year, at about the expected time, and now spending time at the weekends rather closer to it than in the week, I made weekly visits. So, at the appropriate time, I found eight plants – the one in the path, and another seven around or just beyond the fence put in by the landowner.

This year was different. The one in the path has disappeared; the other seven were again flowering (as above), but a load of bushes have been planted staight through where they were in order to form a future hedge. But further along, on the fence of the next field, I found two more.

BUT last week I found only one. All those others that had flowered had disappeared. I had checked my location carefully, as I had recorded their location by landmarks – well, fenceposts.

I had kept quiet about this while the plants were thriving, but it seems that they have been removed – before the seeds could have ripened.

Because of an expected rainstorm – which came rather later than predicted – I didn’t visit the site this week.

There are plenty of other orchids in the area in the past few years – Common Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii and Pyrimidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis, again they appeared to disappear for so many years after those visits 40-odd years ago, but there were hundreds if not thousands of these at this site.

I do remember another site, where we were taken by my father, where a crowd of people were watching a farmer plough up a meadow full of orchids, but I have no idea where that was, it is just a memory of sitting in a field surrounded by orchids while the tractor got closer.

However, I do wonder if these flowers (and the cowslips that are present again) are not botanical analogues to the Red Kites that circle around above – recent re-introductions from populations from other countries.

Fruits of a (late) Autumn

November 15, 2011

A couple of days ago I took a late Autumn walk up a favourate hill.  In part it was a valedictory run out in my MB, which goes off the road in a couple of days while I try and get the parts to repair it, and then get an MOT for it.

The old girl recently broke down, but within walking distance of Mother’s, so it doesn’t count as a ‘leaving me in the lurch’ breakdown that my old Saab specialised in.  Luckily I had a spare MB at Mother’s to help me out.  Having finally repaired the MB by the side of the road, (who would suspect two or more spark plugs failing at the same moment?), and using parts from the other, to get it running and thus back-to-base (and there is much more to this than I report here, believe me) this was a run out before the MOT expired.  I know the work that needs doing to the old thing, I just have not had the chance to get it done this year.

Anyway, on what is one of my favourate walks, I was struck by the fluoresent pink ‘flowers’ – or rather fruit coverings – of a plant I’ve never seen before.  The upper branches were bare, the lower had a few leaves plus these ‘fruits’.

This does not look like a native plant to me.

And here is a photo of a leaf, with a rather unusual insect.

And so onto the hill.  And what I noticed most was the ‘fruit’ so often associated with the time before the first frost – Fungi.  I found one that I knew was edible – a puffball, but sadly I’ve forgotten more than many people know about identification of fungi (similarly with wild flowers) so I stare at it, knowing full well I used to know what it was, edible or poisonous etc, but not a clue now.  Oh how cruel the 50th year is.

In the walk, I was surprised as the hare that I surprised, in that I surprised it in the first place.  Humans, with mobile phones, and broadcast inane conversations (which suggested they had not a clue where they were, or did I just mishear that) annoyed me far more.

It was almost dark by the time I got back to the old car.  Too late to pick some rose hips (far too late for brambles despite a bramble flower I’d noticed up the hill).

November is rather late for a bramble to flower...

The wilds of Oxfordshire

October 21, 2009

Red Kites wheeling around (archive photo of mine)

Red Kites wheeling around (archive photo of mine)

Out to Oxfordshire via Henley today. This meant going past a farm where there have been a lot of Red Kite releases. The above photo gives no idea as to how many Red Kites can be seen around there. This archive photo was taken over the summer at Mother’s, but due to computer issues, had not been published earlier.

I believe that I spotted a high flying Red Kite over SW London earlier this week – the second time I noticed this, and I recognise their flight by observing it at Mother’s. But by the time I found a telescope it had flown away (and far too far for a photograph). It is only about two years ago since The Independant published a letter about the first Red Kite to be seen in London for 150 years.