Snow. Quietness reigns. Manchester airport is closed. Choir rehearsal is cancelled because of bad weather. A bit of a disappointment as it’s Queen week (“come along in moustaches and curly wigs for a bit of fun to rehearse Don’t Stop Me Now“). My Freddie Merury outfit lies dormant. Out come the binoculars and camera.
We don’t often get much snow here so it’s a bit of an event. I hear on the weather forecast that the Cheshire Gap and North Wales are affected. The garden, nearby woods and field look like fairyland. The dog – now one year old – explores his whitened environment and with snowy muzzle, eventually comes back into the house to find the nearest radiator.
Meanwhile I’m scanning higher levels, following the avian antics of a gang of goldfinches as they fly from treetops to garden feeders. A lone buzzard suddenly swoops down on to the field, scattering snow from the branch it’s perched on; I wonder what small mammal it’s spotted. A shy female bullfinch lurks in the hedge then takes off the very second I reach for my camera. Likewise the three siskins who pause together on the topmost branches of the bare apple tree. I wish for an extra pair of hands so I can hold binoculars and camera at the same time.
The same happens when I see a reed bunting perched on a snow-laden conifer in next door’s garden. But the pair of magpies on a distant treetop stay still, only coming to visit after some food has been put out by husband, clearing paths and making sure there’s fresh, unfrozen water in the bird bath.
The blackbirds are busy at ground level, pigeons descend from their treetop roosts to see what’s going on, the nuthatch commandeers one feeder and the blue, great and coal tits get active on the other. The robin, ever-present, puts in an appearance. The garden looks like a belated Christmas card.
This is the time of year when the fledglings are feeding independently. I like seeing them on the feeders; they always look scruffy, dusty and dowdy as their full plumage hasn’t yet come through.
A baby Goldfinch with a wonky wing feather and an emerging feathery ruff on its chest has been tucking in to the niger seeds quite a lot, then flying off to perch nearby before returning for another feast.
Baby Coal Tits and Great Tits have been feeding on sunflower seeds, looking faded as yet. But when the adult plumage appears for all these young birds, they will look superb.
Right now though, it’s plumage in progress.
Looking around the garden in the past few days, I noticed how many purple flowers we have. Purple is a favourite colour; it has regal and spiritual connections and resonates with the violet in the rainbow spectrum.
It’s also a colour which attracts bees – an insect which is so important yet under threat from the use of pesticides.
When taking these shots of the purple flowers I forgot that we have lavender too. It’s just coming into flower and my hope is that it will be visited by as many bees as are in the neighbourhood.
I belong to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. I’m a fairly passive member; I support their work and do my bit in my own way by encouraging an interest in bees with my grandchildren. Granddaughter has moved from being scared of bumblebees to being being brave enough to stroke one carefully (I wrote about this last year) while it’s immersed in its task of collecting pollen. Her interest has spread to liking hoverflies and being fascinated by them.
This beauty has appeared in the marginals around our pond and I think it’s an Early Purple Orchid. Not being into botany I’ve only had a couple of wild flower books to help with ID on this one, and have yet to trawl the web for firmer visual confirmation.
Yawn…….trawling the web isn’t so attractive when I can just sit outside and look at this welcome newcomer. It’s real, it’s an orchid and it’s in my garden pond.
I’m happy with that!
Not in the National Trust’s usual style, Calke Abbey in Derbyshire is dubbed an “unstately home” at the entry to the extensive park and grounds, and it definitely lives up to this description. It parades its faded grandeur and shabby chic with pride and shows what a large country house and grounds look like when they’re not restored and tarted up.
The National Trust is not especially in my good books right now because I learned earlier this year they allow drag hunting on National Trust land, a permission which has been bent and abused by some hunts which have used it to illegally hunt foxes. As a member of the Trust I’m not happy with that and expressed this view. Sadly, the Trust seemed unwelcome to objections (there were many) so my membership will probably not be renewed.
In spite of getting some things wrong, they do manage to get some right, and leaving Calke Abbey in a state of peeling paintwork and crumbling, picturesque decay is one of them. I really like the messy outhouse workshops used by gardeners, groundsmen and stable lads.
I’ve yet to visit the house, only open at certain times, but the gardens are tended and maintained, the vegetable garden getting a lot of TLC and attention while the conservatory is left with crumbling interior walls – it all adds to the unstately effect.
How refreshing to visit an un-posh, rustically convincing property managed, but to not within an inch of it’s life, and left to allow nature to flourish. It’s the only place I’ve ever seen a stoat at close hand, racing away for cover as it was chased by a crow. And the fritillaries in the shaggy orchard grass were a delight to see.
It’s almost time for the annual RSPB Garden Birdwatch but I do my own birdwatch on a daily basis! Perched on a stool at the breakfast bar, bowl of porridge in front of me, I have clear view every morning of the comings and goings of the local birds as they visit the feeders.
Many tits visit – blue, great, coal and long-tailed (a favourite – such pretty, chunky little birds). Chaffinches, greenfinches and goldfinches drop by. The occasional siskin too. Nuthatches cling to the sunflower seeds, bringing a burst of soft-coloured pinkish yellow and smoky grey/blue to the feeders. A tiny perky wren, with its loud singing voice, darts in and out of branches and undergrowth, and brown/grey, rather beautiful subtly coloured dunnocks, are regulars visitors.
I’m a cloister addict. I like visiting abbeys and abbey churches where monks and nuns once lived a contemplative life – some still do, but far fewer than in medieval times.
The cloisters were where monks and nuns could walk, take some fresh air, sit for a while on the low stone walls surrounding the central courtyard and perhaps read, pace around silently thinking deep thoughts or maybe walk while sharing quiet words in communication with each other; even silent orders were allowed some verbal moments. Continue reading