To increase our biodiversity we have long wanted to dig a pond in our woodland — we have tried before — it is not easy manoeuvring a heavy digger in waterlogged mud — what you need, we have learned, is an expert.
We know where to dig from the rushes and willow saplings that grow there (and the dents from previous attempts). In the past, discretion has always forced us back onto solid ground, occasionally with great difficulty! Today the weather is dry and sunny and the nearby stream is the lowest we have ever seen. Meurig, a man at one with his machine — he could use it to peel an orange, has come to help us.
By lunchtime we have a big hole and as he predicted water is appearing all by itself.
The one larger willow will be on its own island — ducks welcome,
By teatime its definitely a pond and filling up fast and I’m looking on the internet for life-belts!
We have uncovered a cache of thick, antique Welsh slate — haphazard sizes, mainly broken that were buried in the mud — they might help waterproof the clay banks — if nobody wants them — does anybody want them?
Don’t worry — it will all green up in no time but we might help a bit with some native pond weed and maybe some yellow flags and buckbean.
Today 4 septuagenarians, one carrying a 10 ft ladder, picked their way along a precipitate and thickly wooded hillside in the foothills of the Cambrian mountains. While others waved flags (today was the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee) we looked for bird nest boxes put up at the end of winter and now hidden in the deep foliage of the Welsh rainforest. Bill and I were trying to help ring this year’s chicks.
A right of passage — to get a number before they leave the nest — for us to monitor what is going on and to make sure we are doing the best we can to help the local birdlife! Most of out boxes only went up this year so expectations were not high as Jan and Jon of the local Habitat Protection Group inspected the 12 boxes which were designed primarily to boost our population of pied flycatchers.
Two of the boxes revealed pied flycatchers, one with a record brood of 9 chicks. The total of 16 chicks in the first year exceeded our wildest dreams.
12 boxes yielded 48 chicks of which 24 were blue tits, 16 pied flycatchers and 8 great tits.
Thanks to the Habitat Protection Group for sharing their time, knowledge, expertise and for their patience and for giving us such a memorable jubilee.
However, if of a squeamish disposition — do not continue.
The clue is in the name — it’s not got black and yellow stripes — it’s a ferocious predator and so is it’s baby which lives in a burrow with only its face showing which will grab any passing creature, like an ant, and munch it up with its formidable jaws.
These lavae become fat and juicy on their diet of hapless insects but if they are unlucky enough to encounter their own specific ichneumon wasp, Methoca ichneumoides, they in turn meet a horrible end. Life is like that! Here is one who has met a sticky end, lying on its back showing its terrible jaws.
Methoca ichneumenoides came along and allowed the beetle lava to pull it into its burrow but then stung it, which paralysed the beetle lava, Methoca then laid a single egg in the body and filled up the top of the burrow with sand. Here you see that the the egg has hatched and the live lava of the wasp has eaten its way out and is chomping on the beetle lava. I suspect the pair were both dug up by a nosey human like me and photographed without permission!
We did not find an example of Methoca on Dunwich Heath last week but we did see another interesting wasp there last time we visited, the red banded sand wasp. It has similar habits.
Click anyway — I think it will work — otherwise search red banded sand wasp on Wikipedia!
County of wide skies, windmills and huge oak trees.
Long shadows, full stomachs and an evening stroll to disturb a barn owl — flying, ghostly white on silent wings, low across the field. You can’t photograph ghosts and anyway he caught us by surprise!
We’d gone out to find this little owl that Bill had seen before — we scoured all its usual roosts but it was nowhere to be seen this year.
Neither could we photograph the bittern that occasionally flew up out of the reed bed at Minsmere to have a go at the low flying marsh harrier in a spectacular display of territorial aggression. Its great thick, flexible brown and yellow flecked neck bending back to stab at the flapping bird of prey. Here is the harrier recovering from the shock.
He is not holding up a grade for artistic merit (which was an A) but sitting on a marsh label so that other watchers in the hide can say ‘BITTERN — flying left to right above D’ and I can still miss it. Here is something else I had difficulty in seeing clearly although he was definitely there, flitting about in the reeds: bearded reedling… not a tit!
Wild horses would not drag Bill from the reserve but the promise of a glossy ibis was too much and we ventured out towards the dome of Sizewell B on yet another wild-ibis-hunt but we did see this fine wild polish konik stallion who looked as if he belonged on an ancient cave painting — look at the thickness of its neck. Not really wild but hardy and not picky when they graze and they don’t mind having wet feet — they were purchased to graze this marshland reserve and tick another conservation box.
On to Dunwich Heath for an ice cream and despite the high wind a wonderful view of a Dartford warbler, which came up and looked at us with its head on one side
Above is a female Dartford warbler photographed in Spain — they are very difficult to catch with a camera, rare and fast and well camouflaged — the male we saw was much more purple — the colour of dry heather, with a grey head like this one, brilliant red eyes and the same bemused expression.
In response to my last blog — on rivers, my friend Steve sent me a copy of his favourite river scene…
It set me thinking… As we look out at the world, what we see depends not so much on where we are standing but who we are.
When the children of our reconstituted family were young, I noticed that if they witnessed an event, an altercation in the street, for instance, when they each told me about it they often interpreted it quite differently. It was startling.
My 15 year old step-son came back from town one day and reported, ‘We were going down the Headlands and this hoity-toity lady had a go at a man who was trying to park his car but he wasn’t going to be bossed about by her, he told her where to get off and no mistake!’
Later my daughter described the same incident, ‘We saw this lady, she was a bit like Gran, and when she asked a man to move his car because it was blocking her drive, he went bananas! He was really rude.
Both perfectly nice kids with eyes and ears that worked, heard the same words but what differed was the way they each saw the world — different genders, different characters, different formative experiences, different viewpoint — they saw it from a different angle.
I think we all have an idea of the world and as we look about we mould what we see and hear to fit this view — it is our nature to want to confirm our preconceptions.
So, is this a river, a train, somewhere to fish or a health and safety issue? Steve says it’s 92 Squadron, a Battle of Britain Class locomotive, built in 1948 to a Southern Railway design at Brighton works. Now at the Nene Valley Railway where it is lovingly tended and where you can visit it.
I go and look him up — how do you know he is male? I hear you ask.
This is how.
But his gender would not be given away by his colouring. This is one of the most variably marked species of ladybird — the harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis — it has many forms. The female (I hope I am not making a false assumption here) is f. succinea, orange or red with 20-22 black spots and a white pronotium, the plate over the thorax, with a black M on it — you can see that quite clearly. The male in f. spectabilis, black with four red spots and again 2 big white splodges on his otherwise black pronotium. There are completely red ones and black ones and all sorts of variations. The first thing you notice is that they are bigger than our native species.
And they are bad news for native species as they are very successful — not surprising. These have appeared first and, as you can see, are getting on with the job — very active and difficult to photograph as they would not stand still!
Native to eastern Asia they are voracious predators and were evidently introduced to control aphids on commercial crops here in Britain, Europe and also North America .
A threat to diversity but good news for the roses.
A quote from my letter today to the BBC‘Not a complaint! The news is full of premonitions of biblical famine, not without cause, and mental health doom. During lock-down your organisation promoted fitness — good for mental health — bravo. How about a swift response to the news with items on planting vegetables — need experts (you have plenty) on popular magazine shows to tell us if it is not to late for spuds and what we can safely plant and how. You have such retail power that this will immediately be responded to by the supermarkets with seeds and compost. We all need a bit of a push to grow things and share our gluts with the food banks. Get a celeb who gardens to endorse it… Go on!’