Sunday, 30 March 2014

Evening Walk

First sunset of British summer-time 

Friday, 28 March 2014

Whatever will the neighbours think?

Our little back garden on a quiet residential street has clearly gained a bit of a reputation the past few weeks, amongst the local feathered population, as a good place for meeting and courting single ladies! Despite the chill March winds, thoughts of nesting are getting many of the visiting birds in all-of-a-flutter!

Two grey-headed and drab dunnocks spend much of the day hopping around the garden in search of tiny seeds and insects and anything dropped from the feeders above. One of the pair, presumably the male, has taken to singing from a favourite perch in my neighbours pear tree; he busts into a string of high sweet notes, then appears to forget the words, coming to a sudden stop.  

The robins that paired during the late winter months have been cementing their bond, with the male feeding his demanding mate the choosiest morsels from the bird table.

On the daintier end of the spectrum, when the bull-in-a-china-shop woodpigeons are not careering about, the highly colourful goldfinches visit the garden. They sit on the perches of the feeder, one each side like bookends, tucking into the sunflower hearts; a favourite seed feed. Nesting fever has caught on here two however, as during this morning’s visit seed eating was abandoned, and the birds were seen collecting strands of cobwebs and cat-fur that had snagged on the top of the fence, to take it away to some secret building site.

A very short hop over the fence and yet more birds are busy with this nest-building lark! A pair of blue tits are enthusiastically stuffing a nest box with beak-fulls of moss and whatever they can find, whilst a glossy sequinned pair of starlings potter around the lawn, probing with open beaks for grubs, and collecting leaves and other material to fill their favourite nearby roof cavity.

Even the blackbirds have been sharing the bath water, splashing in the rain-filled plant tray that suffices as a bird bath, although the male didn’t look to impressed when he found his Mrs had emptied most of the water with her vigorous bathing before he had chance to enjoy it!

My quiet garden has become a busy dating-club; couples in and out at all times of day – whatever will the neighbours think?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A spring butterfly made of spring sun

As we reach the end of the first week of March we appear to be settling into a spell of warmer and thankfully calmer and dryer weather. The kind of days where you want a t-shirt in the sun but long sleeves when standing for long in the shade. A few adventurous souls, determined to banish all memory of the long soaking winter, have dusted off their shorts for the first time this year, whilst all around in hedgerows and gardens, bees are buzzing, blossom and buds are bursting, and spirits soar at the sight of gold; brimstone butterflies and bank-side celandines. Reptilian beings are awakening; adders bask in sheltered sun-traps, grass snakes hunt dappled waters, my neighbour's tortoise is digging himself from the warming ground, slowly re-charging in the midday sun. 
I have been gardening. Our fence needs repairing; a good excuse as any to get out there and 'tidy up before the boys come to fit the new panels' or generally lift, separate, trim, prune, move and mulch. The energy-boost that spring has brought was just the thing I needed to spur me on with a long postponed job. Replacing a wooden raised bed that had disintegrated through a combination of rot and accidental sitting-on, with another, and redesign the neighbouring flower border. Pausing in my work, part way through this particular job, no doubt distracted by the buzzing of bees in the pulmonaria or the arrival of a cup of tea, I sat a while in the sun, gazing absent mindedly tea-mug in hand, at the mound of soil excavated from within the deceased raised bed. As I gazed a movement caught my eye, and when I looked closer I spied a woodlouse scaling what to it, must have been a sizeable mountain of crumbly loam. I watched as time and time again it fell, all 12 feet a wiggling frantically, and almost cheered out loud when it righted itself and at last reached the peak. 
Behind my left shoulder, where I knew the young oak reached tall and straight to the sky, the robin sang. A sudden flash of yellow, I turn and twist trying to keep it in my sight, a bright male Brimstone; a spring butterfly made of spring sun.
All day the queen bumblebees buzzed and hummed, wolf spiders basked on sun baked stones and fence panels, and the dunnock sang his short phrase and seemed to run out of words. 
I apologised a few times to the earthworms that writhed in the soil disturbed by my shovelling, gently lifting those I could to safety away from the danger of my fork. 
Physical work in warming sun surrounded by nature allowed the brain to rest, rejuvenate, recentre. the sun on my skin felt all the better for the long damp deary days of winter. The direct contact of hands and living soil, of knees and damp ground, of first grass cut scented air and sun-bathed colour that filled my senses, reconnected body to mind and soul to earth and rhythm to seasonal cycles. 
Now it has reached that time of day when the sky is a faded grey, evening blue sort of shade and the trees, still winter-bare, trace black filigree across the soft clouds. 
Colour slowly seeps from fields where fresh furrows run; a days hard labour, a job well done, and from the hedgerows that shiver in the march breeze, where a late wandering bumblebee laments the loss of the midday sun. 
Drifting through the upstairs window, are the rich fluid notes of a blackbird's song.

The week is ending cool and calm, stars emerge one by one in the darkening sky, thoughts turn towards Monday morning hopeful that the sun will shine again neutralising the effect of returning to school or work after a weekend of lazy hours.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Beautiful British Wildlife

I remember, as a child, visiting a zoo. There were secretive leopards, and wrinkly rhino, and towering giraffes and penguins that made us laugh. They made nice holiday photographs on my wind-on-film disposable one-use camera, if it wasn't for the wire of the enclosures. However you looked at these photos, there could never be any doubt that they were taken in a zoo despite the amount of care the keepers had taken to make the enclosures as natural and stimulating for their occupants as possible. 

I visited a different kind of 'zoo' at the weekend. I call it a zoo because technically that's really what it is, but here there were no gibbons rampaging through branches or bison grazing open pastures. Instead, charismatic red squirrels bounced through woodland and an adder bathed in warm spring sunshine. Foxes called eerie courtship barks and beneath the tramping feet of visiting school groups and families, badgers snored. This was the British Wildlife Centre. Most of the captive animals here are rescued or from breeding programs, themselves in turn contribution to education and breeding programs for the future of conservation of their species. With minimal wire and extensive naturalised enclosures, the centre is a joy for photographers (although some species take a little patience!) and for both myself and the RSPB youth group with whom I was visiting, to get up close to and have such fantastic views of the hidden beautiful wildlife of our countryside and own back yards was a real delight. 

All photos taken at British Wildlife Centre, Copyright Sophie May Lewis (SophiEco Wild) 2014