Tea in the garden !

It is warm and sunny , I am sitting in the sun in the garden drinking tea, next door are mowing their grass and the birds are singing noisily. As Pa Larkin would say ‘perfick’! In fact HE Bates who created Pa Larkin in The Darling Buds if May books lived here in Rushden .

The bird feeders are busy with flocks of squabbling sparrows, I sometimes think our garden is a sparrow meeting point. They are amusing to watch .There are great tits, blue tits and chaffinches in the trees and red kites floating above us. The number of red kites has increased , we often have them flying and soaring over the garden. Driving down into town earlier there were three together .

Our chickens are enjoying the better weather and are looking healthy and inquisitive and busy eating any insects or worms they can discover.They are not roaming in the whole garden now as they are fond of digging up the spring bulbs!

This white chicken is called Olivia and she likes to climb and sit in the trees and enjoy the view !

There are not many insects in the garden this afternoon apart from some tiny flies and a huge bumble bee visiting the hellebores. I’m on the look out for butterflies and always like to see the brimstone in these early spring months.

The pond which we created last year looks good but needs leaves taken out of it and some of the plants cut back. I’m hoping that this year it will attract some dragon and damselflies.

These early spring days are brilliant as everything starts to grow again . Hoping for birds to nest or bumble bees to take up home in the terracotta house.

Spring is definitely marching forward.

Water World

A lake at Rushden Northants. The trees to the right edge have a heronry in and it is fascinating to watch the comings and going’s of the birds.

Sunday was bright and dry and skies were blue. The woods and meadow areas were however transformed into watery worlds by the rain of the past three weeks.

Ducks were swimming through these flooded woods , exploring new areas.

The River Nene flows behind these gravel pit lakes and it has burst it’s banks and created new wet areas. Herons are standing in them as well as the coots and moorhens and ducks.

The swollen river to the back of this photo and the normally dry scrub land now mini lakes.

This was a bright day and a noisy walk, the birds were busy and very vocal. Standing in a wooded area right next to a lake a flock of goldfinches were incredibly loud . There were great tits , blue tits and long tailed tits in large numbers as well. I like this small wooded area it always has something interesting to discover.

Right at the waters edge
An area full of birds .

The tree tops looked fantastic against the sky and buds are beginning to burst open. Pussy willow is appearing along the paths.

I love these blue skies

It’s great to spend more time outdoors not wrapped up in a waterproof, hat, gloves etc let’s hope that spring will sweep in soon.

Tim listening to the incredibly loud birds and trying to spot them in this watery wood.

Bat at Batsford !

It has been an amazing blue sky afternoon out exploring Batsford. There were drifts of spring flowers, crocus, daffodils and snowdrops and beautiful blossom. While walking along the stream at the base of the hill a strange bird caught my eye. It turned out to be a bat which was flying up and down the stream bed. It was about 12.30 and was unusual. There were plenty of birds flying too, chaffinches, bullfinch,, blue tits, robins, blackbirds and noisy pheasants were in large numbers and busy. I noticed a magpie carrying a very large twig flying off to build a nest.

The sky was a brilliant blue and the trees looked fantastic silhouetted against it.

Pine surrounded by blue.
Magnolia buds
Batsford skyline

There is a large collection of magnolia trees at Batsford and the buds are growing and filling out now. They are often hairy or downy. Some of the buds look black .

Magnolia buds covered in hairs.

The flowers were beautiful especially in the sun. A short tour of them for you below.

Tiny cyclamen
Amazing hellebores in huge numbers
Daffodils large and small

As all the new growth is bursting forth and everything is sprouting and greening there is still interest from last year. This perfect leaf skeleton was laying on top of some leaf litter. It almost sparkles in the sun.

A perfect leaf skeleton
After recent weather the water full was thundering, impossible to pass without a splash.

I couldn’t resist a sit on a bank of daffodils , they smelt lovely. I noticed what I thought was a bee diving in the golden trumpets but it was a hover fly. It ventured deeper and deeper into the flower .

Moving down into the daffodil
The hover fly was covered in pollen

I often stop for a walk at Batsford often on my own and I love it. There is always something new to see and discover , today a stream flying bat! The magnolias won’t be long until they put on an amazing show so a revisit will be in order.

Soup and coffee in the sun post walk , a real treat.

Spring is definitely marching on, looking forward to being out more as the weather improves discovering and exploring.

Blossom appearing

Museum portraits

I had a short visit to the Natural History Museum in Oxford this week. It is full of amazing specimens and is a treasure trove of interest.

I particularly liked the four birds below and took their portraits.

Number one- the Kiwi

Flightless birds with a great sense of smell

Number two -the Albatross

These birds can weigh 12kg and have the longest wingspan of 11 ft

Number three- the shoebill

Found in East African swamps hunting fish and baby crocodiles.

And finally number four- the Kakapo

This is the largest and flightless parrot.

There is always something new to discover at this museum, even on a flying visit !

Hurrah for Hellebores

The weather has been so dreadful , we have been lucky compared to lots of people just some fence damage and a very wet garden ( under water in parts)

To brighten up this miserable weather the hellebores are flowering and they are beautiful.

There are two native hellebores in the U.K. they are stinking hellebore and green hellebore.

There are lots of wonderful varieties for the garden , we have some lovely ones in ours . I’m looking out for a yellow one to add to the ones we have.

Other signs of spring poking out of the bad weather are increasing. In the garden there are bulbs flowering, buds bursting and leaves unfolding.

Snowdrops grow wild in the U.K. and naturalise and spread . These are the first I have successfully grown in the garden .

Magnolia buds, furry and swelling. This is a magnolia Stellata, which has small white flowers .

There is a sweet scent of primulas promising spring’s arrival.

Colour and fresh greens are cheering us up.

This is an exciting time of year as plants and insects start to grow and increase in numbers. A huge bumble bee was exploring the flowers yesterday . Frogs and toads are spawning . Change is afoot !

Issue 2 of Explorations moving forward

Issue 2 of Explorations magazine has been out for a few weeks and people are really enjoying the range of articles, photos and information. A huge thank you to everyone who contributed to the issue.

This Issue is full of new features and some amazing articles from all over Britain and even Iceland.

I am trying to bring the magazine to school libraries and develop a love of the natural world with young people. A school Subscription is three issues plus newsletters three times a year. Information can be found in the schools and groups tab. Email- naturetableexplorer@yahoo.com I am looking for schools to become ‘explorer schools ‘ and deliver natural history focussed projects at them.

Please think about becoming part of the naturetableexplorer (NTX) project . If you would like to send ideas or photos, notes or an article for issue 3 email in naturetableexplorer@yahoo.com . If you would like to subscribe to the magazine Explorations use PayPal with the same email .

I am also looking for outlets for the magazines , if you have any ideas let me know !

I have set up a Facebook group page called nature table explorers and would like people to share their photos on this page and build a virtual nature table of discoveries.

Explore more !

Roman Moss

A visit to Shropshire and to Wroxeter Roman City was a good bit of exploring. The sky was an unbelievable blue.

Wroxeter Roman City – Viriconium Cornoviorum was once the fourth largest town in Roman Britain.It was founded in the mid first century and was inhabited until being abandoned in the seventh century.

The hill in the distance in the photograph is the Wrekin. This hill is very interesting geologically. It is where some of the oldest rocks in the country are found , 677 million years old !

The Wrekin is very cone like in shape but is not a volcano , it is however made up from Layers of lava erupted from volcanoes.

Geologists describe Shropshire at this time as a lot like Japan , a volcanic island sitting in an ocean on the edge of a larger continent.

The Wrekin is 400m high and was a hill fort in the first century of the Celtic Cornovil tribe.

Ercall hill is a smaller hill next to the Wrekin and is famous geologically. In the quarry it is possible to see a change from bright pink rock to a pale grey. This marks the change from the pre Cambrian where there is very little Life and the Cambrian period where life suddenly exploded. As you drive up the M54 it is all in front or to the side of you !

Back to Wroxeter- the walls that can be seen today of the Roman ruins are home to Mosses and lichens. The tops of the walls form moss gardens.

Most of these mosses are pincushion species growing in a tight cushion shape.

The moss in the photo is probably wall screw moss (Tortula muralis) .Moss and lichen cover the walls especially on the tops but also in-between the tiles and stones in this ancient city.

These miniature gardens of moss are beautiful and interesting . Mosses provide good habitats for invertebrates due to their structure and their ability to hold water . They also provide insulation against rapid changes in temperatures and humidity. There is definitely more to moss than meets the eye.

Venus flytrap update

My Venus flytrap has been shooting up flower stalks and promising flowers for weeks. They have tight buds that seem to take ages to open.

They are opening !

I really enjoy growing some unusual plants in the house and watching them each day . Carnivorous plants are brilliant.

This plant has now started to grow some new leaves and hopefully flytraps.

I had an interesting plant given to me by the inner wheel after a talk. It is a brilliant colour and texture and is now developing some flowers too.

There are three small plants in this planter and they are really interesting.

I’m excited and planning more unusual plants to enjoy as we are installing a greenhouse and I’m hoping to grow some really fascinating plants .

Harry Potter Discovery

On New Years Day we had a walk at Blenheim Palace at Woodstock. The Parkland surrounding the amazing palace was designed by Capability BrownThere are some amazing views and trees as well as bridges and columns.

It was the trees that stood out on this dull day especially the base of the trunks. The roots and the moss were really interesting.

Along a ridge above a huge lake tall Beech trees tower over you. Their root systems are impressive.

Closer to the lake there is an area of Lebanon Cedar trees one of them is very distinctive and is known as the Harry Potter tree.

This tree appeared in the 2007 film the order of the Phoenix . It is in a scene where Professor Snape has a flashback about being bullied.

The tree was planted in the 1760s when capability Brown was creating the landscape. The large hole in the tree would have caused the tree to collapse. To save the tree a plan using straps and supports costing £5000 has saved the tree. It took tree surgeons two days to complete the work.

The tree is 55ft tall and 20 ft in diameter and attracts Harry Potter fans in huge numbers.

An unexpected movie star on a winter walk !

Magical Mistletoe

It is the last day of 2019 and a dull cloudy walk was brightened by some huge mistletoe plants in apple trees at Baddesley Clinton near Leamington Spa.

There is one species of mistletoe in the U.K. it is Viscum albums. There are approximately 900 Species worldwide.It is a plant that is found across the U.K. but the main population is centred in the SW Midlands. In recent years the range of mistletoe has expanded into more eastern areas. One explanation of this is the higher numbers of continental blackcaps from Germany that have started to overwinter in Britain and spread the seeds.

Birds such as blackcaps and mistle thrushes love eating mistletoe berries. The berries are sticky and the birds wipe their beaks on a tree branch and the new plants of mistletoe can grow.

Mistletoe is a semi parasite, it has sucker like roots that attach it to the tree where it can tap into water and nutrients from the host tree. It does photosynthesise and produces it’s own food.

It is found in trees such as Apple, lime , sycamore ,ash ,poplar ,hawthorn but very rarely in oak.

Mistletoe is a dioecious plant which means that a plant is either male or female. Female plants have the creamy white berries that the birds love.

The mistletoe marble moth is a priority species for conservation and needs mistletoe to complete its lifecycle.It has declined in the six counties it is found in and this is thought to be because of the commercial collection of mistletoe in these areas.

A walk at Wrest Park a couple of days ago was full of trees covered in Mistletoe.

Mistletoe is at the centre of folklore and myths it is wrapped up with fertility, love, protection and Christmas .

It is a strange plant , it grows between the sky and the soil it is neither a tree or a shrub , it is a semi parasite . There are many tales to explore about this mysterious magical evergreen in the trees.

Happy exploring in 2020 !