queried a French boyfriend in 1966 when I was trying to teach him some English — that is probably when I first realized what a peculiar language we do speak! These are the butterflies we have seen in Wales recently, they are called, in Welsh gloyn byw, living glove — not much more sensible!
It has been a warmer, sunnier spring and early summer this year and we seem to have seen more blues than usual. Here is another Common Blue
Lots of Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries:
Small Green Hairstreaks like this one:
A Wall Brown — actually sitting on a wall.
We have seen all these regulars (thank you Bill for the pictures). Clockwise from top left: Small Tortoiseshell, Small Heath, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Peacock
The Meadow Browns have only just appeared and are so frisky that they will not pose. We haven’t seen any Gate Keepers or Painted Ladies yet.
Nightjars (Caprimulgus europaeus) used to be called Goatsuckers because they hung around goats and other domestic animals and as they seemed to do them no harm it was assumed that they fed on the milk of these animals. They do not. They eat insects especially moths that fly at dawn and dusk and sometimes throughout the night.
Maybe they picked the occasional fly from a sleeping mammal but modern pasture hosts far fewer insects than it did now that we Click our stock — spray them with long acting insecticide. If you want to see Nightjars today (or rather tonight) you need to go to the moors or a grazed heath but what they like best is recently felled and re planted conifer forest but you must start by listening. Spotting birds at night is a thankless task but male Nightjars announce themselves with a loud churring — a strange jarring, mechanical sound, each one modulating its chur slightly differently.
The first time I heard one, I was out lambing on a hillside just after dark, I had no idea what it was — I wondered if it was a chain saw up in the woods.
Last week Bill and I went up into the forestry at dusk and listened. True to form, just as we had given up and were wending our way home we heard the first chur. It was from the edge of a newly planted pine plantation around the clear-felled area we call the “Dead Zone”, where the mature pines have been cut leaving stumps and a matrix of dead sticks and broken branches tangled around ditches of stagnant water in a post-apocalyptic landscape. This whole area above our village has sections of pine wood at different stages of growth. As we stood, one bird would fall silent then another further along the margin would take up the call — all along the edge of a new plantation.
Night was falling fast and we headed for home across the Dead Zone, aware that large bats were all around, swooping overhead making a strange eerie sound as they passed close by.
On the longest day we visited again — at 10:15pm we started to be treated to churring from all around the amphitheatre — the felled clearing surrounded by young trees — the midges were biting as the land darkened and the purple hill in the distance seemed to grow against the fading light and the new moon appeared. “Not much chance of seeing one now,” then suddenly a giant swift came out of the dark, right in front of us, looping and swerving after its aerial prey — just a few feet above our heads — not a bat, after all — but a Nightjar!
This secretive, almost mystical bird, is having a come back — its numbers increasing — in the hilltops of Wales, where the forests rich in insect life are felled in rotation opening up the habitat so that these amazing birds can manoeuvre in open skies above the forest floor where they nest and rear two broods before heading back to the Congo, almost invisible as their camouflage is so good. This is an American cousin, very similar, that we almost trod on in Texas — look carefully — can you see him?
Reappraisal, re-purposing and a lot of digging: that is what we have been doing during the corona lock-down as we wait to see what Nature throws at us next.
When Bill and I renewed our friendship we had just come through difficult times having both recently lost much loved spouses after long illnesses. In the past we’d worked together for many years so knew we got on and are still getting on in both senses (three score years and ten!) We also lived in and are rooted in different parts of the Britain, he in England, me in Wales.
As the Corona Pandemic started to unfold it became evident that movements would be restricted but I think we had already made a leap of faith and here we are — locked-down together in Wales.
I had sold or re-homed all my stock (apart from my dear old pet “lamb”, Aby seen below in her new role as artistic muse!) We should have been making the most of our new found mobility… Lisa runs her sheep on the land now.
Recent portrait of Aby — lady of leisure.
But there is still a lot to do and so much better with a willing helper!
I’ve always believed when you run out of space what you need to do is sort things out, de-clutter and find the space that you had just mislaid! We have tidied the tools.
We have processed the remains of the demolished, unsafe, storm damaged and rotten barn and removed the remains of the rat infested container — taken down in the nick of time. All the higgledy-piggledy timber we have cut and stacked.
We have surveyed the fences and arranged for all the wobbly ones to be reinforced by new posts now that contractors are free to come. We have removed the debris.
I have repurposed the now deserted chicken run — digging vegetable beds and converting the coop into a potting shed. The feed troughs that are no longer needed have been filled with compost and planted with lettuce, onions, coriander and radishes. Brought up on Beatrice Potter I’ve always identified with Peter Rabbit! Not any more — I’m Mr McGregor. As the new baby rabbits gathered in awe around my magnificent courgette plant, I rushed to the now tidy shed and put my hand directly on the roll of chicken wire, grabbing the staples with the other, and made haste to increase security.
The grass from the chicken run was raised like an old carpet and re-laid on the scar that was left by the container and seeds sown where it would not stretch.
The compacted stony ground within the chicken run, the only rabbit proof area, has been dug and re-dug and fertilised and planted. The seedling beans got frosted the night after they were planted out (I’m on a learning curve) and the onions got mowed (so is Bill) but it all looks more promising than any of my previous attempts at gardening. The Jerusalem artichokes left over from a recipe that gave us hurricane levels of wind are growing fantastically — a mixed blessing.
Bill has cut the bracken and the thistles on the pasture with the new topper pulled by the newly serviced quad-bike without mishap and I cut the ones on the steepest banks by hand.
During all this time nature has entertained us. The birdsong is less deafening now as this years fledglings hop about in the low branches and the parents flit about busily feeding them. Kites soar above as two buzzards and a magpies skirmish in the field over one less rabbit for me to worry about. Neither of us have ever witnessed the Spring unfolding in such detail and the weather has never been so good.
Here she is under a strangely blue sky, for Wales– Mother Magpie, unlikely heroine of my last blog — fighting to save her two (there may have been more) fledglings. They are both alive and she and Father Magpie are still feeding them. The Sun is still shining:
This is one of the chicks — having a flying lesson with Mum, fully fledged but smaller than the adults and with a shorter tail. At night they roost close to their original nest, next to the telegraph pole.
But look at this —
Last evening at dusk, not 10 meters from our door, waiting for the light to finally fade — Tawny Owl bides her time.
While we blustered about trying to find the tripod, she flew away and this morning the head count was the same — but she’ll be back!