The last day of my summer

The heath at Backley, near Sawley Beeches, New Forest, 30th August 2013
The heath at Backley, near Sawley Beeches, New Forest, 30th August 2013

Yesterday was to all intents and purposes the last day of my summer. I spent it out in the New Forest on not one, but two walks with my family, because I’m greedy and it was a nice day.

Our morning outing was to a place called Backley grassground and Soldiers Bog, which if you’re driving south from Stoney Cross on the A31 you can see on your left… though it’s probably better and safer viewed as a passenger!

Clouded Yellow, male, near Sawley Beeches, New Forest, 30th August 2013
Clouded Yellow, male, near Sawley Beeches, New Forest, 30th August 2013

The heather (mostly actually Ling, which isn’t heather at all really, but what most people think of as heather), like most other plant-life this year, is late, so still giving a glorious scent, though the further down into the bog you walk (on a good path), the more it get’s mixed with the equally heady scent of bog myrtle! Walking down we saw two Dartford Warblers, and I got my first ever clear view and photograph of a rarish summer migrant butterfly, in from the continent, a Clouded Yellow! It made my day, and we’d hardly started ūüėČ

Down in the bog, whilst the husband was chasing dragonflies (we were meant to be working with two cameras but it became a slightly amusing squabble for the one we both prefer), the lad shouted “baby frog” but it turned out to be even better – a young Common Toad. We even got a video clip for my husband to use in school.

A young Common Toad in Soldiers Bog, New Forest, 30th August 2013
A young Common Toad in Soldiers Bog, New Forest, 30th August 2013

We were expecting Hobby’s to be visible working the valley bottom for dragonflies, but not a raptor was in sight, so after a little while leaning on the bridge in the bottom watching dragonflies, we climbed the hill again, this time startling a young Fallow Buck about 3 years old, before wending our way back to our access point to the open forest.

You'll have to trust me on this - the silhouette is a young Hobby sat among the Scot's Pine it was born in, New Forest, 30th August 2013
You’ll have to trust me on this – the silhouette is a young Hobby sat among the Scot’s Pine it was born in, New Forest, 30th August 2013

After lunch at ‘home’ in Lyndhurst, I was greedy for more and determined to see a favourite raptor, so we set out again to a spot I visited last year where my son and I found a Hobby nest. After a little distraction from a fading Holly Blue on the ling/heather, I heard the sound I’d been straining for – a juvenile Hobby calling from the same clump of pine that we’d found the nest in last year. There were in fact two, and both were well fledged and off the nest, though still clamouring for food from a parent. The light was against us so my poor photo was only in silhouette, but we saw all three birds clearly before walking in high spirits back to the car and ‘home’ once again.

Today, we drove properly home to Yateley again, where the wildlife can be as good, and we have wi-fi to upload the pictures! There are more of them, and some snaps of Curlew and Fountains Abbey on my Flickr site Рaccessible via the left column.

Now things start to get really busy again, so I shall enjoy the memory of this lovely end to our summer, as I start to get back into the grips of ordination training.

Roe Buck and other spring evening delights

Peacock Butterfly on Gorse
Peacock Butterfly on Gorse

Very quick post with a record of our evening stroll. The venue was Blackbushe and it’s surroundings again as usual.

This Peacock Butterfly looks like it overwintered – though how any butterfly can survive the winter we’ve had, I really don’t know.

Whitethroat, Blackbushe, Yateley
Whitethroat, Blackbushe, Yateley


The Whitethroats are still showing well, and with patience, I’m getting closer!

The Roe Buck was the star of the evening though, he was in the bottom corner of my favourite field, not far from the gate. I got close enough to lean the camera on the gatepost, and took loads of photos, until a couple who had entered the top of the field and walked round to the gate, disturbed it and it headed back into the copse. We were surprised, they never even paused to watch, even though they can’t have failed to see it!

Roe Buck, Yateley 1st May 2013 - looking slightly moth-eaten because it's starting to moult into its' summer coat (which is a much more glossy chestnut)
Roe Buck, Yateley 1st May 2013 – looking slightly moth-eaten because it’s starting to moult into its’ summer coat (which is a much more glossy chestnut)

There are more photo’s on my Flickr site, including a couple taken yesterday in the old chapel at college. They’ve kept the ‘chancel’ area round the altar for quiet prayer meetings, but the rest is now a quiet space to work in – by far the most comfortable and now my favourite place in college.

In case you’re wondering, the walks are an attempt to keep me sane when I’ve got lots of stuff to think through, and the fresh air and exercise are good for me too!

Well finally – Spring is here!

College House, Ripon College Cuddesdon, in the sunshine on a spring day (20th April 2013)
College House, Ripon College Cuddesdon, in the sunshine on a spring day (20th April 2013)

Yes, I know the forecast is for it to leave again later this week, but at least for the last few days, spring has definitely sprung.

Last weekend, we dashed down to the New Forest and after a rainsoaked abortive trip to see the sea on Saturday, finally managed a walk on Sunday 14th, one of the highlights of which was sighting the first to Swallows of our spring.

Fox Moth Caterpillar 22nd April 2013 Blackbushe
Fox Moth Caterpillar 22nd April 2013 Blackbushe

I sighted another in Garsington (Oxon) on the way to college on Tuesday 16th, and avoided running over a Toad on the lane to College Field on the way home. I spent most of the glorious weekend weather in college too, with another Swallow gracing my walk up the path to All Saints Church, Cuddesdon for a rehearsal on Saturday 20th. As you can see (above) college is such a hardship when the sun is out and there’s a few moments to stand and stare. There were even butterflies – Brimstone in particular.

Whitethroat (male I think) 21st April 2013
Whitethroat (male I think) 21st April 2013

When I got home yesterday we walked up on Blackbushe to discover the Whitethroats (small summer migrant) are back, and the Gorse is finally in full flower. When I returned today, I confirmed there are at least two Whitethroats (a pair I think), and also that caterpillars are beginning to emerge – though I very nearly stood on this one as I was watching the birds! No Swallows here, nor our more usual House Martins, and I reckon it’s too early for our Swifts yet. I also saw a young second year Roe Buck in the fields looking like it’s beginning to moult, but I couldn’t get close enough for a decent photo.

But it is coming, spring really is here… more or less! Hopefully it will really get it’s act in gear in early May when I get to spend a whole week doing Rural Theology field visits in the villages around college – hope they don’t mind me taking the camera!

The Sky Dancers – an original poem

Red Kite over Huntercombe Golf Club, Gangsdown Hill, Nuffield, Oxfordshire, 5th March 2013

Nothing is wasted, especially not my journeys to college. Driving back and forth I love watching for wildlife, and take particular joy in the Red Kites of Berkshire and Oxfordshire, which have previously inspired my Plough ‘Sunday’ grace.

I first fell in love with these birds in the 1980s as a teenager, holidaying with my family near Tregaron in Wales on land owned by Miss Frances Evans, who is attributed with saving the Red Kites of the Cambrian mountains. Since then I have photographed them at Gigrin Farm near Rhyader, been aware of and watched their spread back into the UK from captive release schemes, and now we sometimes even get them over my house in north-east Hampshire.

What follows is an original offering of poetry inspired of these beautiful birds.

The Sky Dancers

Red Kite, Gigrin Farm, 2005

Sky dancers dip and rise
among the suns intermittent rays.
Silver crowning their russet mantles
they seek the breezes,
pirouetting between unkempt hedgerows
and struggling spears of grain,
tails like some well flighted
sickle-headed arrow
reawakened from among the dead.

Review is watchfully taken
among the rich tilth of worm-worn furrows,
or camouflaged in silhouette
among gnarled oaken fingers
rigid against winter’s stark horizon.
A piercing eye
scornfully regards its raptor relative,
regally disdaining hunched countenance
in favour of command.

The 'raptor relative' Buzzard, Gigrin Farm, Rhyader 2005
The ‘raptor relative’ a Buzzard, Gigrin Farm, Rhyader 2005

Such are lives rejuvenated
from Celtic soliloquies,
released to communal ascendancy
between the thoroughfares
of contemporary surmise.
Now among the ancient Wessex downland,
pinpricks of circling history
with fingers dipped in ink,
turn earthward
to distract the nearer gaze.

Though begrudged by some
a share of nature’s bounty
or stolen schoolyard pickings,
the gathering multitude,
lift, tack, yaw and jibe,
a twisting flotilla of eager appetites,
that frighten and mesmerise
with effortless beguiling.

Red Captive feeding, Gigrin 2005
Red Captive feeding, Gigrin 2005

As hypnotised,
we raise our eyes to follow
the constant tumbling
above the agricultural year,
let us celebrate
the sky’s dancing corps
of chestnut pilgrims,
and stop to praise the resurrection
of creation’ s call.


(Edited very slightly after reading it at our OMC review night, June 2013)

Of mice and an MA

Three Long-Tailed Tits on birdfeeder
Three Long-Tailed Tits on my bird feeder. 6th February 2013

Today I achieved two things that I’ve been trying to accomplish all winter.

The first, was that I managed to photograph the Long-Tailed Titmice that occasionally dash through our garden. I have always loved these birds, and longed to photograph them, but this is the first time I’ve succeeded so I feel really chuffed with myself.

The second thing I achieved today, was completing the first portfolio of my MA. The whole process has been tortuous, proved the fact that I read, retain and reflect on material really slowly, and struggle to make connections that when I’m talking to someone informally come so much more easily. The thing is my poor memory means I can’t remember what I’ve thought, read or said. Yet, except for my issues with¬†apostrophes,¬† I have no problems actually writing it just takes a long time – especially when I’m trying to achieve a standard that I’ve never worked at before.

Anyway, my reflection on obedience, community and hospitality in Benedictine spirituality will get it’s own special trip to college tomorrow, to be handed in. Then I can start proper work on the next two: one about land in the Old Testament, and one that may well be about spirituality and hope connected to my current hospital placement.

The little mouse that visits our patio. 29th January 2013

Oh, and more mice? Well we’ve had a little visitor under the bird-feeder on the patio recently – often first thing in the morning, so photographing it can prove rather difficult. Anyway, I rather like him, even if he’s bit small and scared to cuddle, and I’d really rather not have him in the house!

The wildlife is keeping me sane – ish.

My count – RSPB Big Garden #Birdwatch

So, having told you about this weeks Mistle Thrush, when it came to doing my hour for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, it had vanished completely! Just typical!!

Timed from 9.45am on Sun 27th January 2013 in my little suburban garden in Yateley, my totals for the 10 species of birds that landed in the garden are:

Chaffinches on our seed feeder 14th January 2013
Chaffinches on our seed feeder 14th January 2013

Chaffinch – 13
Blue Tit – 2
Robin Р2 (resident is v territorial)
Starling – 5
Blackbird – 2 (M & F)
Wood Pidgeon – 2
Great Tit – 2
Siskin – 1 (M)
Goldfinch – 1
Greenfinch – 1

So, no Mistle Thrush and much reduced numbers of Starlings (although there are plenty around), Goldfinches and Siskin. That’s the difference the Hampshire thaw has made I guess. The Dunnock that’s been semi-resident is also missing, as were the Long-Tailed Tits who dash through a couple of times a day and two Collard Doves who were cooing on our fence up until a few days ago.

Male Siskin on our Niger seed feeder 16th January 2013
Male Siskin on our Niger seed feeder 16th January 2013

Overflies, if I could have included them, would have been many more Wood Pidgeon and Starlings, and about 4-6 Magpies.

We didn’t do the Birdwatch in in 2012 (I must have been busy) but looking back at our totals for the 2011 RSPB #Birdwatch this years count is pretty good. We’ve not had a Blackcap this winter that I’m aware of, and Siskin numbers are down (though we did have up to 4 in the garden during the snow), but a lot more Starlings and Chaffinches.

I shall be interested in the RSPB results when they are released later in the year, and really must get out around Blackbushe and Castle Bottom again soon. The weather and lack of dog are have had a bad effect on my birdwatching, and on my hips!

My love-hate relationship with Starlings #Birdwatch

Starlings on our garden seed feeder in Yateley

The reason that this weeks Mistle Thrush has had so much seed to feed on, is because of the Starlings.

I know that according to last years RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch suggested that Starlings are among the garden birds most in decline, but there’s never been any shortage of them in our Yateley garden. Numbers regularly reach double figures actually in the garden, and there are many dozens around our estate, often lined up on the television¬†aerials.

They are far from being dull brown birds, with plumage that close up is not only startlingly marked, but also an amazing combination of iridescent green and purples. Yes, they really could be described as beautiful.

But, they squabble¬†atrociously¬†and the noise can totally dominate the garden soundscape. Especially when there’s food on offer. We can refill our birdseed feeder and an hour later these greedy guzzlers have totally dominated the feeder, chucking the majority of the seed on the ground beneath. Some of the Starlings also feed beneath, but here the main beneficiaries are the Chaffinches, Wood Pidgeons, and Collared Doves.

What it does mean is that the Chaffinches who actually quite like to use the feeder too, only get a look in towards the end of the shift, ditto the Blue Tits who won’t stand up to the Starlings, and the Robin who has mastered the perch but rarely gets to feed there.

Birds feeding in the first snowfall of January 2013
Birds feeding in the first snowfall of January 2013 – you can see the attractive pile of waste food below the Starlings favourite feeder, but is it a health risk to other birds?

We do have other feeders to suit various tastes, so the most of our garden bird life gets something, but the grass is being utterly ruined and I’m concerned that the dropped food might contribute to the¬†prevalence¬†of¬†Fringilla papillomavirus¬†(warty legs)¬†that we have in our Chaffinches – could the mites that cause it be transmitted through the mess of waste food?

With this weeks snow melted, and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch over, it is my intention to try and sweep up as much of the waste the Starlings have created as I can, but I know it’s going to build up again very quickly. So what I’m wondering is if there is some design of bird feeder that will create less waste, or discourage the Starlings, who are perfectly capable of feeding on the fat balls or table feeders we have on offer?!

It’s not that I want to get rid of the Starlings completely, but just find a healthy balance in the way we feed the birds who frequent our garden.

Is my Mistle Thrush muddled? #Birdwatch

Mistle Thrush
Mistle Thrush in my garden 21st January 2013

During the snows of the last week, we’ve had a new visitor to the garden. A Mistle Thrush.

I don’t think it arrived just to perform for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, though when I do my hour of recording tomorrow morning, I’m really hoping it puts in an appearance.

But, it’s feeding habits have somewhat surprised me, especially considering the details put out by BBC Nature yesterday.

Mistle Thrush feeding on bird seed in my garden on 21st January 2013 (and ignoring the apple I put out for it)
Mistle Thrush feeding on bird seed in my garden on 21st January 2013 (and ignoring the apple I put out for it)

When I took these photo’s on 21st January, I had put out some apple halves for it to feed on, which it totally ignored. The next day I chopped it up much smaller, and the bits remain totally uneaten. Neither do we have any berries on the bushes around our garden, because we don’t have the space for those sort of shrubs.

Instead this Mistle Thrush much prefers the birdseed that has fallen from our bird feeders (more about which tomorrow). So, what I’m wondering is whether despite their known preferences for fruit and berries, actually the Mistle Thrush is a little bit more adaptable than we might have thought? Or, is my Mistle Thrush just muddled… or desperate, because of the weather?


Unusual Autumn

Young Swallows at Perriswood on The Gower in August

This morning, in GU46 (that’s in Hampshire) I walked the dog in a snow flurry!! We’re still in October for goodness sake!!!

Between, or in fact sometimes because of, the journeys to and from college in Oxfordshire, I’ve been trying to keep track of some of my autumn sightings this year, and it’s been unusual.

The most noticeable oddity of the autumn for me was the Swallows and House Martins. They left for their migration to Africa incredibly late this year with my last sightings being

  • Farley Mount near Winchester on 6th Oct
  • Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire on 8th Oct
  • Blackbushe, Yateley on 9th Oct

All of which is noticably later than the date I recorded last year of 21st September!

But apparently that wasn’t the half of it, as the BTO reported¬†migration to be late, with their e-news talking about some Swallow chicks still on the nest in early October, and ¬†Going Birding Hants still showing Swallows leaving the coast on 24th October!!

The dragonflies also flew late this autumn. The last one I spotted at college was on 15th October, and the following day the last one here in my favourite field near Yateley, where it rose from the damp grass into the sunlight a bit like Tinkerbell after she was poisoned!

Buckthorn berries

The Spindle trees at Farley Mount started the autumn colour, which given the damp weather bringing the leaves down whilst still partly green, may be all over before we return after half-term. The little black beauties we found on 20th October initially had me completely puzzled, probably because it’s years since I’ve seen any.

Sadly the autumn colours going over the Ridgeway to college have been somewhat dulled by the misty weather. However, I’ve a trip to the New Forest to look forward to late next week, so shouldn’t go completely without the golden autumn palette I love.

The Red Kites still regularly delight me on the way to college, even in the mist. It’s been particularly interesting to watch their behaviour: swooping low over the road, presumably looking for¬†carrion, or following the plough on it’s autumn rounds, in groups of up to a dozen. On one occasion I spotted three sat in a fresh ploughed field, presumably feeding on the worms, whilst others circled overhead.

Still no decent photo’s of them though! The best views are in the car when I’m driving, or as I dash into college with no time to spare, and no camera to hand.

This garden visitor doesn’t make the dog bark! Greater Spotted Woodpecker

Exhaustion overcame amazement when we received repeated visits from a local vagrant. One night the dog repeatedly, and energetically (to the point of hysteria) barked in our kitchen/diner on and off throughout the night. Irritated, on the second night I visited her distracted activity with¬†vengeance¬†in my heart, but happened to peak through the curtains of the french window; to find a fox standing less than 3m away, feeding its face on… fallen Conference pears!!!!

So, I can confirm foxes are not totally¬†carnivorous, and can easily bank a 5′ fence to gain entry and exit to a tasty morsel. I can also confirm that we are now very careful to pick up all fallen pears as soon as we see them, and that as a result, we’ve all slept better the last few nights ūüėČ

I’m not great at fungi identification but at least they are static organisms that can’t run or fly away (like the fox did) when you try and photograph them!

Porcelain fungus (Dudemansiella mucida)

Thanks to the ‘Fungi Name Trail’ guide from the wonderful Field Studies Council, I have discovered this week that the glistening fungi we found on a Beech tree in Farley Mount is called the Porcelain Fungus. I suspect we will photograph other such beauties in the New Forest if the weather is clear – being married to a micro-biologist tends to mean we stop at every new specimen.

Where Buzzards Call – God’s own Cathedral

Buzzard above the trees in Yateley

There is a field where I like to walk the dog, to breath deeply of the fresh air, to watch butterflies and look across the edge of town to the hill beyond, and to listen to the buzzards calling.

They are a new edition to the scenery. At one visit about two weeks ago, I spotted six separate buzzards Рfour in the air at once, but two others calling from nearby trees. Regularly since then there have been two, lifting from the nearby oaks and circling above my head calling to each other as I walk the field boundary.

Stitchwort flowering in the field bank

The sound of a buzzard, lifts my spirits. When I’m in the company of my husband, the effect is even better. There is something about sharing our appreciation of wildlife, from the tiniest flower to the raptors above, that brings a depth to the sense of joy at God’s creation that I struggle to put into words. There is also a freedom in such circumstances to praise and worship God in a way that is impossible within the walls of a building, however majestic and prayer-filled it might be. Truly I sense that this is one of the places where I stand in God’s own cathedral.

Moulting Roe Buck near Yateley, May 2012

Yesterday, I entered this same field, to be greeted by yet another treat. At the top of the field was a grazing Roe Deer, unconcerned by the presence of myself & my Honey dog. For once, she stayed quiet and allowed herself to be put on the lead as I crept closer, a few yards at the time. The Roe buck raised it’s head occasionally, moved occasionally to some new patch, and grazed on. Before it left the field, I was even able to get close enough to take a photo!

I wondered at it’s unusual mottled look, but not until I got home and looked at the photo did I realise that it was moulting heavily, the glossy gingery red coat just visible below the long guard hairs that have kept it warm through the winter.

As the Roe buck leapt over the fence, my terrier Honey, finally spotted it!

[On the phone later in the day, Dad (30 plus years a wildlife manager in the New Forest) reminded me that the Roe Deer has an unusual biological cycle, that doesn’t match that of the other deer of Britain. They caste their antlers in November (rather than May as the Fallow do), bearing new antlers in velvet during the cold of winter. They rut (mate) in late July and early August. But there’s another twist of biology, for the fertilised eggs have delayed implantation until sometime towards the shortest day, so that the young, which can be twins, are born in high summer.]