Ecology

Nymphs and Shepherds

Just two years ago we put the bung into the plug hole of our newly dug pond and let Nature do the rest.

Common Hawker Dragonfly defending his new territory.

Common Hawker Dragonfly defending his new territory.

Last summer this Common Hawker Dragonfly patrolled its banks and skirmished with intruders for the territory, occasionally looping the loop with a yellow spotted female of his species who must have gone on to lay her eggs in the water, because look what we just found!

Aeshna juncea -- Common Hawker Dragonfly Nymph

Aeshna juncea — Common Hawker Dragonfly Nymph

And that wasn’t all — the water is alive with biological activity, a million tadpoles whizz around our pond-dipping bucket, getting in the way and obscuring our view of the newts and myriad nymphs — not so easy to identify in life because most of the pictures are of exuvia (the dried up skins of the nymphs, abandoned by the adults after they emerge).   The harder you look the more nymphs appear and all are interacting — some snapping at passers by, others knocked over by a clumsy water beetle — a microcosm.

Here are a few that my grand-daughter helped sort out and photograph–

Damselfly nymph -- probably Enallagma cyathigerum being buzzed by a Common Water Boatman

Damselfly nymph — probably Enallagma cyathigerum being buzzed by a Common Water Boatman

The identification is more to do with common things being common and having seen a lot of the adults flitting about last summer — here’s one of them —

Common Blue Damselfly (probably).

Common Blue Damselfly (probably).

Blue and Azure damselflies are tricky to distinguish — especially when they are alive!

And what about our friend Libellulia depressa, the Broad Bodied Chaser, the first Dragonfly we spotted by the new pond (often the first to colonise a new pond, said the book, and they were) —

I think this could be one of his offspring

Fat bottomed nymph -- maybe an early Chaser (Libelullia depressa) or a Darter (Sympetrum spp.)

Fat bottomed nymph — maybe an early Chaser (Libelullia depressa) or a Darter (Sympetrum spp.)

Please comment if you think I am wrong in any of my identification — I may well be, but you have to start somewhere!

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animal psychology, Humour

Domestic Deity or Just a Damned Cat

The cat sits, ears a point, disdainful of his subjects, on a laundry basket throne or next to the TV.  All eyes upon him, (of course) he gazes at nothing in particular, waiting to be served.  I have never questioned this — I am a cat-person, in his thrall, trained since birth, a hand maiden of the mighty Mog.

‘Don’t get up and feed him the instant he meows!’

‘But he’s hungry.’

‘He’s just a damned cat!’

My husband is not a cat-person — here’s the dilemma — the main cause of tension in our household.

Guinness

Guinness, The Fat Cat, epitomises the power of self-confidence.  He strutted into our house three years ago, stood his ground when the dog rushed up to him. Their noses touched for an instant, the dog was transfixed, then wham, the paw of steel, the dog was dismissed, blooded, dominated.

Guinness moved in with his own household — his man, Midnight.  Cat psychologists say domestic cats are solitary, that is nonsense — Guinness has a butler, his own Jeeves, someone to see to his personal grooming, to suffer fur balls on his behalf, to hunt for him, to taste his food, to intercede with the other servants (me and the dog) and to do his meowing.

Guinness and Midnight

Midnight, (‘now he’s a proper cat!’ says Alan) is The Fat Cat’s batman, they met in a previous life, not in the army, but in prison — prisoner of war camp — Stalag 46, in Brighton, in the war on the Feral Feline Freedom Forces.  The Fat Cat was in charge of escape and very good at it, but so confident was he that he would present himself every morning outside the prison, at the camp commandant’s bungalow for breakfast.  After breakfast he was marched back to the pound where the other prisoners greeted him as a hero ( the Steve McQueen of the Cat Rescue).  He would eat again and sleep all day, Midnight, The Proper Cat, watching his back.

He, The Fat Cat and his side kick, were released on licence to live under house arrest in Worthing, that pit of iniquity (I was chased by a mugger once in that East Sussex town fallen from glory).  Once respectable, it is now a forest of parking meters roamed by drug addicts, prostitutes and cats. Still uncontainable, it was here that he forged links with the underworld — colluding with local foxes, pimps and mini-cab drivers, wandering the streets at night, his were the green eyes under every illegally parked car, his DNA was on every discarded take-away carton.

He came to Wales, under cover — he’s a sleeper, don’t tell anyone.  Urban gangster lying low — some say he worked for a Russian bank, no one knows the full story.  Now he’s free to come and go he mainly does what he does best — he’s a sleeper after all and. Under his protection, Midnight (his faithful lieutenant and proper cat) does the rest — Farm Cats Inc.  (Non-exec. Chairman: Guinness, ‘The Fat Cat’)

Farm Cats Inc. — FC and the Hit-man

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Natural Beauty

In the Rain Shadow…

…mythical creatures claw themselves free of the forest floor…

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rise up on the verges of the ancient tracks…

and stretch out to drag you into their gully.

Warriors stand above their own graves and gaze through the larch vale, wind at their backs, looking down the valley to where we live in this land of spirits.

Larch vale

The tups on the hill are uneasy…

Tups in the rain

they feel it too.  Something stirring beneath the wet grass — everywhere, everything — waking — stretching — on the move.

Forest Floor

New Oak

May Verge

Bluebell wood Rain shadow

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Nature’s Show Garden!

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Ecology

Spring Building Boom

Spring creeps slowly up our valley and in the last  week we have had 70 mm of rainfall, which is not at all unusual, but yesterday the sun came out.P1050503 (2)The new vibrant verges have splashes of bluebells and the pond surface trembles with life as the tadpoles jostle for a place in the sun.

Tadpoles jostle for the sun's warmth

Yesterday the first orange tip butterflies flitted between the pink flowers of the lady’s smock, the cuckoo called from the thicket on the hill and a tiny frog had his first taste of fresh air, albeit with the assistance of the author.

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I put him back where I found him.

But best of all –yesterday our swallows returned, flapping at our bedroom window  as the first rays of the sun struck the front of the house, they used to nest in this barn until we made it our home and ten years later still try to return to the beam above our bed.  We close the window and reluctantly they swoop off and renovate last year’s nests in the wood shed and perhaps accept our offer of a beam in the new barn.

The house martins that built their nest under the north facing eaves last year for the first time are back in force, at least two pairs.  Last year’s nest fell down in the winter but it looks as if they are preparing to rebuild.

The house sparrows are back in the hole behind the downspout that we left for them when we re-pointed (not because it was difficult to get at) and, needless to say, all is quiet on the bird-box front.

The moles have been busy re-boring their runs and Alan, not convinced by my argument that their efforts improve the drainage of our fields and that they should be left to get on with the job, stomped off to knock down mole hills. By tea time the mole hills were no more than a memory, smears on the pristine sward.  By breakfast today, with monumental earth moving ability, they had rebuilt three or four in each field, shifting hundreds of times their own weight in wet earth.  My admiration for the little velvet suited engineer is not well received by my spouse!

Rare sighting of mole. Is it still raining?

Local Hero!

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Relationships

The Post-Nuclear Family

Looking forward from childhood, all we ever knew was a nuclear family — Mummy, Daddy and 2.4 children (black Labrador and a cat – optional)

John William Ashworth &family c1911
Looking back – the nuclear family was never ever what it seemed.
Now that I’m old I can tell you, as people have told me, it only seemed to work because of hypocrisy and deceit – it was a construct – like a Facebook persona – all those role models were having you on.
Your parents were never who they seemed – they stayed together because they saw no other option and (perhaps) because they loved you. Your uncle and grandfather and half the men they knew had mistresses and their wives had unhappy love affairs – sometimes lesbian, or were just unhappy, eventually – deeply dejected and rejected. Your respectably married, professional, cousin had homosexual adventures. The vicar was at it with a series of lonely housewives and the headmaster was patting the bottoms of the little girls and a little boy was unbelievably raped at school camp – nobody believed him.
Even the smallest village had a couple of convicted paedophiles and several prostitutes (if only semi-professionals – enthusiastic amateurs) and the milkman and the postman did linger longer than necessary – even the roving green-grocer was not averse to having a go (I remember my Mum’s outrage at his audacity, the vicar would have been rejected more graciously).
All this happened.  It is what the bible called ‘original sin’ – it’s not original at all – it’s human nature and you had better believe it – accept it and live with it.
One day – I don’t remember quite when, the veil was lifted. Perhaps it was the advent of the mobile phone or itemised bills, but suddenly deceit became more complicated and women had more options — we entered the era of family breakdown.
That was very painful.
The worst thing was that it wasn’t supposed to happen (not to people like us) – we were all so unprepared.
But twenty years on I can tell you that there is a post-nuclear family – a reconstituted family – just add water and stir – children, grandchildren, step-children, half-brothers, cousins, biological mums, gay partners, feckless uncles, previous lovers, ex-in-laws, anyone you like! The only rule is to look after the children (and don’t forget the dogs).

Post-Nuclear Family

This week-end we had a party to celebrate the youngest’s thirtieth birthday — cocktails in the woodshed, a bonfire, barbeque and then the team hide-and-seek they used to play as children (now Bear Grylls-style in the  wet fields and complete darkness around the house) — no turning out at 4 a.m. to collect them from a sleezy nightclub or from A&E, just a pile of wellies and water-proofs to climb over next morning! 

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