Golders Hill Park and the Heath Extension

Magnolia tree at Golders Hill Park

Dear Readers, how much I took for granted before this year of Covid 19! In 2019 a bus ride and a walk to Golders Hill Park and through the Heath to Hampstead Garden Suburb would have been a perfectly normal, even mundane, thing to do at the weekend. But this week we decided to catch a bus and go for a walk in these previously well-known parts of North London, and it was a revelation.

In theory, we were going to look for the West Heath bog: as you might know from previous posts, bogs are extremely rare in London, and so this little area of sphagnum moss is a most unusual habitat. But first we had to pass through the more manicured area of Golders Hill Park, with its cafe (homemade icecream resulted in a queue a couple of hundred metres long), and its animal park. And, it turns out, its stumpery, which was new to me. How extraordinary these felled stumps are, and how imaginative of the park keepers to turn them into a whole new habitat rather than just carting them away. They look like modern sculpture to me, and they were much appreciated by the pigeons and squirrels, as well as providing a nice niche for wood anemones and hellebores.

Further along the path is an ornamental lake. This year it has a bit patch of crown imperial fritillaries – these lilies are so prone to rot that the bulbs are usually planted on their sides, which makes me wonder how they managed to grow so well in such a damp spot.

Crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis)

And I was a little perturbed to see these western skunk cabbages. These are a member of the Arum family, and are become a problem in Scotland and in other damp parts of the UK. The RHS has recommended not growing them since 2018 as they are considered invasive, so I was surprised to see them here, especially next to a stream which will easily distribute the seeds along the whole length of the stream. There’s no doubt that it is an attractive plant, with its lemon-yellow ‘petals’ and pale-green spathe, though the ‘skunky’ odour, said to persist even after the plant has been picked and dried, would put a lot of people off.

So now we had the task of finding the bog. It’s outside the park itself, on the area known as West Heath, and as I know from previous bog-finding expeditions they can be surprisingly elusive, especially during a dry patch. We had a couple of false starts as we followed tributaries from the Leg of Mutton pond. I found myself wondering whether this was so named because of its shape, or because it was in some way related to the Mutton Brook which rises in my local park, Cherry Tree Wood. I had just started to voice my queries when we discovered the first glimpses of flag iris and, glory be, some sphagnum moss.

The big problem will be protecting the bog from too much trampling: this is a very delicate habitat, and with the current footfall it would be easy for it to turn into a muddy soakaway. But I know that various conservation groups have been involved in removing invasive grasses and suchlike so that the bog will at least have a fighting chance. There are little wooden bridges and boardwalks too to help keep big feet at a distance. The bog is  a bit off the beaten track as well, so hopefully that will help it to thrive. There is another tiny area of bog close to Kenwood, and that’s it for the whole of the Heath. There are plants that grow here, and invertebrates that use the area, that won’t be found anywhere else, so it’s important for biodiversity.

The bog. See how green it is!

And then we turn for home, planning to walk via the Heath Extension which borders Hampstead Garden Suburb. However, we get a little turned around, and I suddenly find myself catching a whiff of coconut. There is a small area of ‘proper’ heathland, with gorse in flower, pumping out that tropical scent. What a surprise! To find woodland, a bog and heathland within a minute’s walk of one another must be a true rarity.

Gorse heathland

I half expect to find a basking adder or spot a Dartford warbler. I wasn’t that lucky, but this little spot did make me very happy, and, in spite of it being Good Friday and very busy on other parts of the Heath, we had the gorse all to ourselves.

And then we head along North End and into another part of the Heath, and we found this gate to nowhere, next to the most magnificent tree.

It turns out that it was part of the gatehouse to the estate of William Pitt back in 1766. His house is round about here, too. It’s easy to forget that the Heath was once a series of great estates (such as Kenwood) and was also farmland, though sometimes you can be looking at something and realise that it was probably once a hedgerow.

Were those cherry plums once part of a hedgerow?

The final part of our walk takes us along the edge of the suburb. There is a fantastic wall here, full of strange manorial doors and antique brickwork.

In the distance you get a great view of Sir Edward Lutyen’s St Jude’s Church, sadly currently swathed in scaffolding.

And as we head back towards our bus, I notice the pinkest of pink magnolias, so that our walk has been bookended with such plants. It seems to be a stunning year for magnolias – I have never seen so many varieties in flower, or in such healthy profusion. What a treat, and how easy it is to let blossom time pass by without sufficient admiration time. Go out and admire a tree today, Readers! They always lift the spirits.

Saturday Quiz – Easter Eggs….

Title Photo by Tony Alter from Newport News, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Song sparrows in nest (Title Photo)

Dear Readers, this week I would like you to look at some photos of eggs, and some photos of adult animals, and see if you can match them up. Easy, eh? And I’ve only chosen ten of each, so hopefully you can enjoy your Easter break/weekend without too much fiddling about.

I will give one mark for successfully matching the photos, and a second mark if you can tell me what the animal is called. So, if you think that the eggs in Photo 1 were laid by the creature in Photo A then your answer is 1) A). And if you think that the creature in Photo A is a buzzard, you can put that down too, though I’d recommend a visit to SpecSavers.

They are all UK species, but hopefully this will still be accessible for people from other places.

The answers will be published on Friday 8th April, so answers in the comments by Thursday 7th April at 5 p.m. UK time as usual, please. When I see any responses I will acknowledge and then ‘disappear’ them, but write your answers down before you look at the comments if you are easily influenced like I am :-).

So, onwards! Eggs first and then adults. And here is a teeny tiny clue: the eggs of British birds are not necessarily the same colour as the eggs of their North American counterparts.

Have fun!

Eggs

Photo One by חי, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

1.

Photo Two by CC BY 2.5, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5978713

2.

Photo Three by By Manyman - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4438036

3.

Photo Four by Thomas Love, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

4.

Photo Five by Muséum de Toulouse, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

5.

Photo Six by Merike Linnamagi https://www.flickr.com/photos/mercar/5496509766/

6.

Photo Seven by No machine-readable author provided. Polarit~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

7.

Photo Eight by nottsexminer, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

8.

Photo Nine by Karz09, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

9.

Photo Ten by W. Schön, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons

10.

Adults

Photo A by Francesco Schiavone, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

A.

Photo B by Boaworm, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

B.

Photo C by Alexandre Roux from https://www.flickr.com/photos/30142279@N07/49671281787

C.

Photo D by By Andreas Trepte - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15771576

D.

Photo E by Sid Mosdell from https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidm/8008555562

E.

Photo F by nick goodrum from Catfield in Norfolk, United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

F.

Photo G by Stuutje1979, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

G.

Photo H by By Andreas Eichler, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83127338

H.

Photo I by By Joefrei - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40585850

I.

Photo J by By © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31367900

J.

 

Saturday Quiz – Coming Soon! The Answers

Title Photo By I, Malene, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20612

Title Photo – Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Dear Readers, congratulations this week to  Fran and Bobby Freelove and Mike from Alittlebitoutoffocus, who all got a magnificent 20 out of 20, so well done Fran and Bobby and Mike! Let’s see what’s in store for us all tomorrow 🙂

Photo One By Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11192172

1) G) Garganey (Anas querquedula)

Photo Two By The original uploader was Tgo2002 at English Wikipedia. - Own work by the original uploader, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26612575

2)J) Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

Photo Three By Ómar Runólfsson - Manx Shearwater - Puffinus puffinus - SkrofaUploaded by snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16473743

3)O) Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)

Photo Four By Sabine's Sunbird - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4240864

4)I) Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus)

Photo Five By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17835190

5)F) Little Tern (Sterna albifrons)

Photo Six By AWeith - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51595424

6)M) Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)

Photo Seven By Erik Christensen - With permission from: Murray Nurse, Guildford , England, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9508570

7)K) Great Skua (Stercorarius skua)

Photo Eight By Jinesh PS - Previously unpublished work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81494339

8)N) Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger) (Stercorarius parasiticus)

Photo Nine By MPF - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59782

9)C.) Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Photo Ten By Sreedev Puthur - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35459331

10)P) Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)

Photo Eleven By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86319610

11)E) Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

Photo Twelve By Yathin S Krishnappa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21376478

12)A). Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Photo Thirteen By Mike Prince from Bangalore, India - Eurasian Hobby, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62046802

13) Q) Hobby (Falco subbuteo)

Photo Fourteen By Yuvalr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16798749

14) R) Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)

Photo Fifteen By Dûrzan cîrano - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11116145

15)H) Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus)

Photo Sixteen By Cuculus_canorus_vogelartinfo_chris_romeiks_CHR0791.jpg: Vogelartinfoderivative work: Bogbumper (talk) - Cuculus_canorus_vogelartinfo_chris_romeiks_CHR0791.jpg, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16077960

16)B) Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

Photo Seventeen By Peterwchen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93628623

17) T) House Martin (Delichon urbica)

Photo Eighteen By Riparia_riparia_-Markinch,_Fife,_Scotland_-flying-8.jpg: Nigel Wedge from Fife, Scotlandderivative work: Snowmanradio (talk) - originally posted to Flickr as The Juvenile House Martin and uploaded to commons as Riparia_riparia_-Markinch,_Fife,_Scotland_-flying-8.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16507846

18) D) Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)

Photo Nineteen By Paweł Kuźniar (Jojo_1, Jojo) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=962740

19) S) Swift (Apus apus)

Photo Twenty By GabrielBuissart - self-made, Romelaere Clairmarais, FR., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2132086

20)L) Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)

Photo Credits

Title Photo By I, Malene, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20612

Photo One By Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11192172

Photo Two By The original uploader was Tgo2002 at English Wikipedia. – Own work by the original uploader, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26612575

Photo Three By Ómar Runólfsson – Manx Shearwater – Puffinus puffinus – Skrofa Uploaded by snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16473743

Photo Four By Sabine’s Sunbird – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4240864

Photo Five By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17835190

Photo Six By AWeith – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51595424

Photo Seven By Erik Christensen – With permission from: Murray Nurse, Guildford , England, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9508570

Photo Eight By Jinesh PS – Previously unpublished work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81494339

Photo Nine By MPF – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59782

Photo Ten By Sreedev Puthur – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35459331

Photo Eleven By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86319610

Photo Twelve By Yathin S Krishnappa – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21376478

Photo Thirteen By Mike Prince from Bangalore, India – Eurasian Hobby, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62046802

Photo Fourteen By Yuvalr – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16798749

Photo Fifteen By Dûrzan cîrano – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11116145

Photo Sixteen By Cuculus_canorus_vogelartinfo_chris_romeiks_CHR0791.jpg: Vogelartinfoderivative work: Bogbumper (talk) – Cuculus_canorus_vogelartinfo_chris_romeiks_CHR0791.jpg, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16077960

Photo Seventeen By Peterwchen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93628623

Photo Eighteen By Riparia_riparia_-Markinch,_Fife,_Scotland_-flying-8.jpg: Nigel Wedge from Fife, Scotlandderivative work: Snowmanradio (talk) – originally posted to Flickr as The Juvenile House Martin and uploaded to commons as Riparia_riparia_-Markinch,_Fife,_Scotland_-flying-8.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16507846

Photo Nineteen By Paweł Kuźniar (Jojo_1, Jojo) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=962740

Photo Twenty By GabrielBuissart – self-made, Romelaere Clairmarais, FR., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2132086

A Regular Visitor and the Best April Fools Ever?

Dear Readers, you might remember that this little vixen popped into the garden a week ago in broad daylight, and since then she has been a fairly regular visitor. She generally appears at about 5 p.m., hoovers up any suet pellets that I’ve thrown down for the birds and sits in the sun for a bit, watching all the goings on. On Monday she was astonished but not perturbed by the next door neighbours sorting out their garden furniture so that they could have a few friends over for the first time this year, and sat and watched the whole process.

I have taken to throwing out a handful of (organic grain-free) dog food for her, on the basis that the suet pellets can hardly provide a balanced diet. After all, at this time of year she might have cubs somewhere.

She has one patch of bald skin, but it could just be her winter coat growing out rather than mange, fingers crossed.

I love the way that animals come to drink at the pond as if it was a watering hole in the Serengeti. And there are no crocodiles, which is a bonus if the wildlife films of wildebeest crossing the rivers during their annual migration are anything to go by.

And then the neighbours dropped something, which didn’t go unnoticed….

I suspect that one reason that the vixen visits during the day is that the big dog fox comes at night – cats often occupy temporal territories rather than physical ones, so the most dominant cats visit my garden at dawn and dusk (the best time for hunting) while the others are relegated to midday or early afternoon when most creatures are resting. So maybe this little fox is trying to avoid running into trouble. Whatever the reason, I think I might just have doubled my dog food requirements.

And now, as you might know, today is April Fool’s Day. In 1957 the BBC produced what I think is the best April Fool’s joke ever. When you watch it, you need to remember that in 1957 only a tiny proportion of the population had ever eaten spaghetti – it was as exotic as pizza and sushi and all the other things we take for granted these days. Plus, the whole set up is so plausible. What I love most about it is that it isn’t cruel – many April Fool’s Day pranks seem to depend on upsetting someone.

What is most strange about this is that I’m sure I remember it being shown, but it was three years before I was even a ‘twinkle in my mother’s eye’. Maybe it was repeated every year?

Anyhow, see what you think. And let me know what your favourite April Fool’s Day pranks were, if you have such a festival where you live!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVo_wkxH9dU

 

Wednesday Weed – Lawson Cypress

Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana)

Dear Readers, isn’t it strange how you can march past a tree every week for a year and never notice that it appears to be covered in tiny red and black humbugs? These are the male flowers of the Lawson Cypress, and the photo doesn’t do them justice. They look as if they’ve been newly painted, and are nicely set off by the yellow-tipped foliage. The beige objects are the new cones. Apparently the whole tree smells of parsley (though my Collins Tree Guide adds the comment ‘rather sour’, you shall have to tell me what you think.

It is a most stately and funereal tree, and so it’s no surprise that there are a number of cypress ‘walks’ in the cemetery. There are some fine specimen trees of other kinds of cypress too, including the Japanese Hinoki cypress in the woodland burial area, and the wonderful swamp cypress . It all rather reminds me of Feste’s song from Twelfth Night (though I strongly suspect that Feste the clown is mocking his master Orsino in this piece). It would also have been about a Mediterranean rather than an American cypress, but I beg your indulgence.

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid.
Fly away, fly away, breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.

Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
On my black coffin let there be strown.
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown.
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

The Lawson Cypress is also known as the Port Orford Cedar, and its native range is restricted to a few mountains in Oregon and California. The wild tree is threatened by fires and by a fungal disease caused by the Phytophthora spore. Apparently the disease is largely spread by soil adhering to the tyres of off-road vehicles, and so these are sometimes banned from areas where the fungus is present. Good riddance, I say! If only someone would find a correlation between plant diseases and leaf-blowers so we could ban them too.

Although in the UK most of the trees are of a moderate height, they can grow to a magnificent 60 metres tall.

Old growth Lawson Cypress in California (Public Domain)

But, who is this Lawson I hear you cry? Well, Charles Lawson was a Scottish plantsman who specialised in crops and conifers. He sent teams of collectors to many places, but when the tree was discovered at Port Orford it was taken into cultivation at Charle’s Lawson’s nursery in Edinburgh. Well, the plant must have been happy because these days it can be found in many large gardens, country-house estates and parks. It comes in a wide variety of colours, shapes and ‘habits’, including this incredibly droopy variant known as ‘Imbricata pendula’.

Photo One By Darorcilmir - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72720894

A weeping Lawson cypress (Photo One)

No wonder I have trouble identifying conifers when they’re so varied! I can always fall back on the red male flowers for ID at this time of year though.

Such beautiful straight-trunked trees would have been very attractive to lumberjacks, and to the timber companies that employ them, and so it was with this tree. However, large amounts of the wood are sent abroad, particularly to Japan where it’s used to make coffins and shrines. The lumber is said to smell faintly of ginger, which sounds very pleasant. The straightness of the wood also makes it a shoo-in if you want to knock up a few arrows, and its lightness means that it’s been used in the manufacture of guitars.

Guitar made from Lawson Cypress (Photo Two)

In North America, the Karuk people built sweat lodges with the branches of Lawson Cypress. In the UK, the sole legend about the Lawson Cypress appears to be that it’s unlucky to burn it (something which seems to hold true for any conifer, in fact, at least in Monmouthshire).

And finally, because spring is here, I have brought you a most unusual poem by Alfred Tennyson. From his long work ‘The Princess’ this is a very sensuous work, a cross between a Persian Ghazal and a sonnet. Both forms often embrace the idea of the parted lovers. I really like the visual quality of the poem – can anybody else see the glint of fin in the porphyry font, or the cypress falling still in the hot, oppressive air?

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal from The Princess by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font.
The firefly wakens; waken thou with me.

Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake.
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.

Photo Credits

Photo One By Darorcilmir – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72720894

Other People’s Gardens….

Alpine Accentors (Prunella collaris) (Photo by Mike Hawtree)

Dear Readers, in my Magic Animals post last week I asked to hear about the animals that you most enjoy when they visit your garden, and today I have two very different sets of critters for your delectation. First up is Mike, who lives in the beautiful Valais area in Switzerland. Mike blogs at Alittlebitoutoffocus and his posts are always full of splendid photos of flowers and butterflies, so when I find myself pining for the mountains (which has been a frequent occurrence this year) I can pop over and cheer myself up.One bird that Mike sees regularly that we don’t get in the UK is the Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris), a bird closely related to our dunnock, and with a similarly intriguing sex life. The birds hang out in groups of 3-4 females and a similar number of males. The females will attempt to mate with all the chaps, and the males will aim for similar success with the ladies. However, one of the males is likely to be more dominant and so will try to prevent the other males from mating if he can. It all sounds a bit ‘Abigail’s Party’ to me, but it just goes to show that even a non-descript little brown bird can have a whole lot of fun.

Alpine accentor – photo by Mike Hawtree.

And then there’s a bird that I’ve never seen in East Finchley: though it’s a British native, it loves the coniferous forests of Scotland. What a cracking photo this is!

Crested tit (Lolophanes cristatus) Photo by Mike Hawtree

Crested tits survive through the winter by winkling out the insects that  hide in pine cones and in bark. It’s a very distinctive and talkative little bird (allegedly since I have never been lucky enough to hear one  🙁 ) and apparently it is ‘easily approached’. No chance of finding one in my garden, I fear, but how lucky we all are that Mike is a dab hand with the camera.

And now to the other end of the world: Anne blogs every single day from her home in South Africa, and she has a garden bird list that is easily six times the length of mine. Her blog, Something Over Tea, is a fascinating insight not just into the wildlife of the area, but into the community as a whole. And she has some truly spectacular birds visiting her garden – how about this African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus)?

African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus) Photo by Anne Irwin

What a spectacular bird! And apparently it has double-jointed knees, so that it can reach into inaccessible cracks and crannies for prey – it will hang from a weaver bird nest with one foot while searching inside with the other one for nestlings. Its ability to climb and its omnivorous eating habits (it eats the fruit of the oil palm as well as all the usual small creatures) make it a successful and adaptable bird.

I was even more jealous about this visitor, although I can understand that I might be in a minority.

Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) Photo by Anne Irwin

This is a puff adder, responsible for more deaths from snakebite in Africa than any other species. This is for a variety of reasons: it’s a widespread and relatively common snake, it can turn up in heavily populated areas, and apparently it has an ‘aggressive disposition’. When I visited the Kruger, our guide told us that the snake likes to sleep on the paths at night because they’re warmer, which is not good when combined with a local populace who often go barefoot. However, as they have especially long fangs which can penetrate soft leather, even your shoes might not protect you. Nonetheless, like most snakes attacking is a last resort: the snake will puff up and hiss continuously, while deciding whether to strike or to retreat. I love the matter-of-fact way in which Anne describes the encounter:

This Puffadder had been seen in our garden for several days in a row and
then one evening decided to venture into our house. Needless to say it
was bundled out forthwith!’

So there we go. Gardens vary so much from place to place, from country to country, and yet we all love to see the wildlife that visits. If you have photos of creatures in your garden, drop me a line on viv_palmer_1999@yahoo.co.uk and I’ll feature you in one of my future posts. In the meantime, do drop in on Mike at Alittlebitoutoffocus and Anne at Something Over Tea for a taste of drops in to visit gardens in other parts of the world.

One Year On

Dad and Bugwoman on her wedding day in 2001.

Dear Readers, on Wednesday it will be a year since my father died ,and as those of you who have been through a bereavement know, the ‘firsts’ are hard. The first Father’s Day, the first birthday, the first Christmas are all filled with memories of the person who isn’t there any more. Sometimes I sit in my living room and look at the space in the bay window where Dad used to lay in his reclining chair, and I can almost hear him snoring away gently. Or I remember him tapping along to the radio, or noticing some bird on the cherry tree, just visible through the French doors. At these times I feel that he is there, just  outside my peripheral vision, and if I turn around fast enough I’ll catch a glimpse of him. But at other times it’s clear to me that he is absolutely gone in any meaningful way, and so is Mum.

I had a dream where the two of them were tottering along the garden path towards the car, and I was watching them from the house. They were bickering as usual – Dad wanted to hold Mum’s hand because she was unsteady on her feet, but she thought that Dad would fall over too if she tripped and he was holding her. But then Dad snatched her hand anyway, and they headed remorselessly away from me. I so wanted them to turn and wave but they were very focused on where they were going. The dream flavoured the whole of my day. At the age of 60 I felt as abandoned as a small child lost in a supermarket.

All around me people are wiping the dust off their garden tables and sorting out their wineglasses in preparation for the first step out of lockdown tomorrow. It’s going to be glorious weather, and I expect my neighbours will be having a whole gaggle of garden-based events, meeting up with family that they haven’t been able to see properly for months. I’m pleased for them, but at the same time it just reminds me that most of my close family are dead. Lockdown has been a kind of protection because everything has been so strange. When Mum died I couldn’t somehow believe that people were going about their lives, laughing and joking and worrying about trivialities. I am reminded of the famous Auden poem about stopping the clocks because someone has died. But then, I too have been that person, laughing and joking and worrying about trivialities, and indeed a lot of the time I still am. Perhaps part of the wonderful thing about life is that it drags you on, even when you don’t want to go.

Someone compared grief to a bookshelf. In the beginning, the only book is the one about sorrow. That book is always there, but gradually other books appear, about different subjects, until life fills out again, and we can go moments, then hours, then maybe even days without thinking about the person who is gone. But this I have learned: losing someone that you love, however old they were, however predictable the event was, is like having a door slam shut behind you. You can never be the person that you were before, because now you know, in your bones, that nothing is forever. Death is no longer some abstract notion, but a bitter fact that you are going to have to learn to live with and incorporate into your daily life.

The nature of grief changes though, and that is a blessing.  I find myself thinking about how mischievous Dad was, how determined to get his own way. I remember that he loved to make people laugh, how kind and gentlemanly he was towards women, how he hated a direct fight but was a master of the sneaky move.  I find myself remembering all the times that we’d sit in the living room watching Countdown, pretending not to be competitive. Even after his dementia, Dad was always the one who could win at a quiz. In short, he is coming back to me, and he’s coming back whole, all of him, with a big grin on his face.

When Dad’s dementia took hold, it was clear that he had become a master of paradox. He could believe that his parents were coming to visit him at Christmas, even though they had been dead for years. He could believe simultaneously that Mum was dead, that she was living somewhere else and wasn’t speaking to him because he’d upset her, and that he wasn’t old enough to be married. And it isn’t so different for me. I know that Dad is utterly, absolutely, completely gone, never to return, and that I’ll never hold his hand again. And yet, I also sense him moving through me every time I make a decision about the garden, or put a slice of lime into a gin and tonic, or get a question right on Mastermind. He is here but not here, present but absent. I miss him more than I can express, but I am  having trouble remembering his face.

I will never ‘get over it’, and yet I am moving on, regardless.

Thomas Reginald Palmer (5.12.35 to 31.3.20)

Celandine Time in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

Dear Readers, I think we’ve reached the height of Lesser Celandine season here in the cemetery – every path is ankle-deep in those shiny yellow flowers with their heart-shaped leaves. I love the polished look of the petals, so different from the waxy petals of the daffodils.

It seems difficult to imagine that in a few weeks they’ll be gone, the leaves dying back until next year. I note from my Harrap’s Wild Flowers that there are two sub-species of Lesser Celandine, one which is fertile (Ficaria verna ssp fertilis) and has petals that are 10-20mm long, and one which reproduces from bulbils (Ficaria verna ssp verna) which has flowers 6-11mm long. I shall have to take my ruler next time I visit, but my hunch would be that these are the latter – plants that reproduce by bulbils are often seen as indicators of ancient woodland because they can’t travel quickly from one place to another. The cemetery has only been around since 1854, but previously the land belonged to Finchley Common, so the area has a long history. At any rate, it’s difficult not to feel the spirits lift at the sight of all these little golden flowers.

Lesser celandine is not the only plant that’s in flower at the moment, though – the violets are just starting to emerge. I found this lovely patch of sweet violet close to a fence – the flowers are very pale and I didn’t get any scent, but the rounded sepals (the ‘covers’ for the bud) give the game away.

Sweet violet (Viola odorata)

I was very struck by the red flowers on the Lawson cypress as well – I had never noticed them before, but this year they are very bright, almost like drops of blood, or like some stripy beetle.

The ground ivy is in flower, too – a member of the deadnettle family, the flowers always remind me of little dolls.

The blossom is going over, particularly on my favourite cherry plum where the coppery leaves are just coming through.

Lots of daffodils are still out, and although as you know I have mixed feelings about them, they are very striking when backlit by the sun.

And here are the sticky buds of the horse chestnut getting ready to burst. Soon there will be the candelabras of creamy, sweet-scented flowers, but for now it’s the first intimation of spring.

As we walk through the cemetery I hear the mewing of a buzzard, and for once it isn’t being mobbed by crows. We watch it catching a thermal (no mean feat on this blustery, chilly day), and it continues to call until another buzzard appears. They can travel a long, long way at speed just by riding the wind. Are they nesting somewhere in the cemetery? It wouldn’t surprise me, but I haven’t found the site yet. If they are, I’m sure it will be hidden away in one of the most difficult-to-access parts of the forest, but how exciting it would be!

And finally, here is another little patch of violets. These are a ‘proper’ violet colour, but it’s difficult to make out the sepals. However, those perfect heart-shaped leaves make me think it’s dog violet (Viola riviniana), so-called because it doesn’t have any scent, and ‘dog’ is often used as an epithet for something commonplace and uninteresting. Try telling that to any dog (or dog owner) though.

 

Saturday Quiz – Coming Soon!

Title Photo by By I, Malene, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20612

Title Photo – Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Dear Readers, a few months ago we had a quiz on autumn migrants to the UK but now, as the seasons turn, they are leaving and the spring migrants are arriving. So, this week, can you match the name of the bird to the photo? I have only chosen birds that are summer visitors only (in some species there are residents and migrants), but even so there are still twenty species, so just as well I’ve given you a week :-). I have also been cheeky and sometimes chosen two closely-related species just so that you don’t get bored.

As I was preparing the quiz I noticed two things. Firstly, there are a lot of summer visitors, especially amongst the ‘little brown jobs’ such as the chats and the warblers, so I am going to do a separate quiz on this bunch in a few weeks for the masochists among you. Secondly, spring is such an exciting time for birdwatchers in the UK! With any luck we’ll be able to get out and about a little bit more this year, Covid willing. I have never noticed the comings and goings of creatures as much as I have this year, and there is something rather nice about tuning in in this way. I’m sure a lot of those reading this will have had similar experiences. Earlier on this week I was asking about those ‘magic animals’ that turn up rarely, but when I was watching my hairy-footed flower bees earlier this week, I thought about how precious those ‘regular’ creatures are too.

As usual, the solutions will be published next Friday (2nd April) so if you would like to be marked, please put your answers in the comments by Thursday 1st April. As soon as I see any answers I will acknowledge them and then ‘disappear’ them so that they don’t influence other people, but if you’re easily swayed by other people’s brilliance (like me 🙂 ) you might want to write your answers down first.

Match the species name to the photo. So if you think the bird in Photo 1 is an osprey, your answer is 1) A)

Onwards!

Species Names

A. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

B. Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

C. Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

D. Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)

E. Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

F. Little Tern (Sterna albifrons)

G. Garganey (Anas querquedula)

H. Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus)

I. Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus)

J. Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

K. Great Skua (Stercorarius skua)

L. Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)

M. Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)

N. Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger) (Stercorarius parasiticus)

O. Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)

P. Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)

Q. Hobby (Falco subbuteo)

R. Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)

S. Swift (Apus apus)

T. House Martin (Delichon urbica)

 

Photo One by By Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11192172

1.

Photo Two by By The original uploader was Tgo2002 at English Wikipedia. - Own work by the original uploader, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26612575

2.

Photo Three by By Ómar Runólfsson - Manx Shearwater - Puffinus puffinus - SkrofaUploaded by snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16473743

3.

Photo Four by By Sabine's Sunbird - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4240864

4.

Photo Five by By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17835190

5.

Photo Six by By AWeith - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51595424

6.

Photo Seven by By Erik Christensen - With permission from: Murray Nurse, Guildford , England, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9508570

7.

Photo Eight by By Jinesh PS - Previously unpublished work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81494339

8.

Photo Nine by By MPF - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59782

9.

Photo Ten by By Sreedev Puthur - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35459331

10.

Photo Eleven by By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86319610

11.

Photo Twelve by By Yathin S Krishnappa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21376478

12.

Photo Thirteen by By Mike Prince from Bangalore, India - Eurasian Hobby, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62046802

13.

Photo Fourteen by By Yuvalr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16798749

14.

Photo Fifteen by By Dûrzan cîrano - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11116145

15.

Photo Sixteen by By Cuculus_canorus_vogelartinfo_chris_romeiks_CHR0791.jpg: Vogelartinfoderivative work: Bogbumper (talk) - Cuculus_canorus_vogelartinfo_chris_romeiks_CHR0791.jpg, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16077960

16.

Photo Seventeen by By Peterwchen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93628623

17.

Photo Eighteen by By Riparia_riparia_-Markinch,_Fife,_Scotland_-flying-8.jpg: Nigel Wedge from Fife, Scotlandderivative work: Snowmanradio (talk) - originally posted to Flickr as The Juvenile House Martin and uploaded to commons as Riparia_riparia_-Markinch,_Fife,_Scotland_-flying-8.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16507846

18.

Photo Nineteen by By Paweł Kuźniar (Jojo_1, Jojo) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=962740

19

Photo Twenty by By GabrielBuissart - self-made, Romelaere Clairmarais, FR., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2132086

20.

 

 

Quiz – What’s That Moth? – The Answers

Title Photo by gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

A Six-Spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipendulae)

Dear Readers, everyone did brilliantly this week – Claire got 9 out of 12, Anne got 11 out of 12 and we have joint winners – Fran and Bobby Freelove and Mike at Alittlebitoutoffocus both with 12/12. Well everybody! Let’s see what I’ve got in store for Saturday 🙂

Photo One by By Rasbak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7195872

1)d) Leopard Moth (Zeuzera pyrina)

Photo Two by By Edward H. Holsten, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org - This image is Image Number 0805048 at Insect Images, a source for entomological images operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA Forest Service., CC BY 3.0 us, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4065666

2) e) Red-belted Clearwing (Synanthedon_culiciformis)

Photo Three by By Hamon jp - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4938452

3)i) Peach Blossom (Thyatira batis)

Photo Four by Les Round from https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/figure-of-eighty

4) j) Number Eighty (Tethea ocularis)

Photo Five by By User:Chrkl - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=220981

5) b) Large Emerald (Geometra papilionaria)

Photo Six by By Charles J. Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38292321

6) k) Bloodvein (Timandra comae)

Photo Seven by Iain Leach from https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/argent-sable

7) h) Argent and Sable (Rheumaptera hastata)

Photo Eight By Kulac - Self-published work by Kulac, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2041063

8) l) Scorched Wing (Plagodis dolabraria)

Photo Nine by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (http://www.entomart.be/contact.html), but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=294710

9) f) Swallow-tailed Moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria)

Photo Ten by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (http://www.entomart.be/contact.html), but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=287301

10) a) Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)

Photo Eleven by By Mick Talbot - British Moths, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9018635

11) c) Gothic (Naenia typica)

Photo Twelve by Patrick Clement from West Midlands, England, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

12) g) Double Line Moth (Mythimna turca)

Photo Credits

Title Photo by gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo One  By Rasbak – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7195872

Photo Two  By Edward H. Holsten, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org – This image is Image Number 0805048 at Insect Images, a source for entomological images operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA Forest Service., CC BY 3.0 us, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4065666

Photo Three  By Hamon jp – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4938452

Photo Four by Les Round from https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/figure-of-eighty

Photo Five  By User:Chrkl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=220981

Photo Six  By Charles J. Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38292321

Photo Seven by Iain Leach from https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/argent-sable

Photo Eight By Kulac – Self-published work by Kulac, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2041063

Photo Nine by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (http://www.entomart.be/contact.html), but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=294710

Photo Ten by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (http://www.entomart.be/contact.html), but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=287301

Photo Eleven by By Mick Talbot – British Moths, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9018635

Photo Twelve by Patrick Clement from West Midlands, England, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons