"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Marsh Lane NR, Blue Tit Nesting News and "Say No to the Mow"

I spent an hour in the warm sunshine yesterday afternoon wandering round Marsh Lane NR.

There were quite a few bumble bees around - Red-tailed and this Garden Bumble Bee.

Butterflies, especially Peacock and Orange Tip, together with Small White and Small Tortoiseshell, were flittering around everywhere.

A worn Small Tortoiseshell

I spent ages chasing after Orange Tip (I think CT will empathise here!!) trying to get a photo without success. They just never seem to alight anywhere or if they do they are up and away as soon as you get within 10 metres of them. I eventually struck lucky in Railway Copse where one was nectaring on blackthorn blossom. Of course, its wings weren't open but you can't have everything!

If you enlarge the photo you can see the Orange Tip's eyes and it looks as though it has turned to stare at me!!

I managed to take a lot of photos of Peacocks as they were happily basking on the sun-warmed ground and were quite happy for me to approach fairly close.

This pheasant made me laugh as soon as it saw me approaching the feeding station it was off!

It was lovely to see the freshly emerging leaves, blossom and gorse flowers against the blue sky

I spotted a Green Woodpecker on a grassy bank near Oak Hide and this was the closest I got before it flew away. I couldn't even be bothered to crop the photo as the woodpecker will be very blurred but if you enlarge the photo you may be able to make it out behind the gate.

Cuckoo Flower (or Lady's Smock) was flowering everywhere. It is one of the primary larval food plants of the Orange Tip.

Other highlights of the visit included a Bullfinch and a Mistle Thrush (new species for the Reserve) with a mouth full of grubs so it must already be feeding young. I didn't see any newly arriving summer bird visitors but I only popped into one hide briefly spending most of my time watching butterflies

Leaves are starting to unfurl on the beautiful sallow which grows near the car park.

Garden Wildlife

The female Blue Tit finished building a nest in the nestbox with camera a week or so ago and on Monday morning, 14th April, when we switched on the camera and TV she had had laid the first egg.

This is very early compared to dates in previous years since we first installed the camera.

2010 28th April
2011 25th April
2012 25th April
2013 27th April

She has been laying an egg a day since. She won't begin to incubate the eggs until the clutch is near completion.

"Say No to the Mow"

Plantlife is running a "Say No to the Mow" campaign. The idea is to encourage people to leave a small patch of lawn unmown until August to see what wildflowers appear. Results that can then be submitted to their website and will appear on a wildflower map of the UK.

I managed to persuade B not to mow a patch a few metres square in a sunny part of the garden. Its closer to flower beds that I would have liked although its mainly shrubs in the one border. But, even though the lawn is full of moss, it is B's pride and joy so I wasn't going to push my luck and insist on a piece in the middle of the lawn. What is it about men and the desire for a bowling green lawn???

Here's my "no mow" zone to the left of the recently cut grass. At the moment its just a bit taller than the rest of the lawn.

Already a few plants are appearing. Id on this one is ongoing - Red Dead Nettle?? - well it does have a reddish square stem!!! If any one has any idea I would love to know!

Most of the identifications will have to wait until flowers appear - I can see a clover leaf on this photo but the larger leaved plant will have to wait for now

I think this may turn out to be a Bittercress species

This tiny little plant looks interesting!

This looks like a tree leaf - id to follow

Of course, I am going to get a few garden plants self seeding which won't count and this is bamboo sprouting.

I'll plant more updates as the year progresses as I am really quite excited about what might appear and, of course, it will help my 365 challenge and insect pollinators :) !!

If you would like more information on the campaign please visit www.plantlife.org.uk

Wishing everyone a wonderful Easter weekend

Monday, 14 April 2014

Sarehole Mill and the Tolkien Connection

J R R Tolkien lived in nine houses in South Birmingham during his childhood from 1895 to 1911 when he left to study at Oxford. Later in life he said that he drew inspiration for his books from the people and landscape of the city.

Between 1896 and 1901 Ronald Tolkien lived with his brother Hilary and his mother at 5 Gracewell Cottages (now 264 Wake Green Road) in what was then the small rural hamlet of Sarehole. Tolkien said that the time he spent here were the happiest years of his childhood. In an article in the Guardian in 1966 he described the time he spent there as " a kind of lost paradise" and that he took inspiration from the village people when creating the hobbits.

264 Wake Green Road (still a private residence)

Opposite the house in Sarehole were Sarehole Mill and Mill Pool. Sarehole village itself is believed to have been the model for "The Shire" in "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings". Ronald and his brother, Hilary, used to explore the grounds of Sarehole Mill and were often chased away by the Miller and his son. They called the Miller's son the "White Ogre". Tolkien contributed to an appeal to save the Mill from demolition in 1960 and it is believed it provided inspiration for the Mill at Hobbiton.

Sarehole Mill and Mill Pool

You can walk through a wooded area at one side of the Mill Poool

I thought the trees in the next two photos looked like something out of a Tolkien book.

King Alfred's Cakes fungi

There is a "Signposts to Middle Earth" exhibition at the Mill about the life and works of Tolkien which was very informative.

A large amount of restoration work has taken place recently at the Mill and Mill pool and the mill is now able to mill and produce its own flour (I came home with a small bag to try) and uses the outdoor bread oven to bake bread. Having had a few slices I can confirm it tastes delicious!

Birmingham once had over 70 watermills but today Sarehole Mill is one of only two that survive in the city. There has been a mill on the site since at least 1542 and most of the current mill buildings date from ~1760 to 1850. Having fell into disrepair the mill was restored in the 1960's.

If you are interested in Tolkien I did write a couple of Posts in 2012 "On the Trail of Tolkien". The first in May was a very similar post to the one above although on that occasion I did go inside the mill and so there are some extra photos. In June of the same year I visited Perrott's Folly and Edgbaston Waterworks Tower which it is suggested may have provided inspiration for Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith, the Two Towers of Gondor, in the second volume of "The Lord of the Rings". The posts can be found under the Archive Blog Posts section if you would like to see them.

Not far from Sarehole Mill is Moseley Bog where Tolkien also played as a child which provided him with inspiration for the "Old Forest". One of these days I will try and visit and show you the Bog which is now a Nature Reserve.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Garden Moths and Flowers

I've been putting out the moth trap regularly in the last week but numbers have been fairly low with just two new species for the year Diurnea fagella and Early Thorn.

Friday, 4th April GMS Week 6

Min Temp 6.8

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) x 1
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) x 3
Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta) x 2
Diurnea fagella x 1 (NFY)
Emmelina monodactyla x 1

Diurnea fagella

Monday 7th April

Min Temp 4.5

Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria) x 1 (NFY
Hebrew Character x 1
Clouded Drab x 1

Early Thorn

Tuesday 8th April

Min Temp 5.7

Hebrew Character x 1

Wednesday 9th April

Min Temp 3.4

Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)x1
Hebrew Character x 1

Thursday 10th April

Min 4.0

Early Grey x 1

Friday 11th April GMS Week 7

Min Temp 4.7

Early Grey x 1

All moth trapping sessions with a 15W Actinic Skinner Trap

I saw my first Orange Tip Butterfly (a male) in the garden on 9th April. In fact, there were several sightings of this species during the day although it could well have been the same individual.

Blue Tits are nesting again in the nestbox with a camera and nesting activity is much further advanced than usual this early in April with the nest already complete and feathers added. I think we may have the earliest laying date ever this year.

Bleeding Heart is flowering in the garden

Violets have self-seeded all over the garden - here in an abandoned flower pot

I am not sure what species this shrub is but when it flowers it always reminds me of Far Sawrey in the Lake District. We used to visit every Spring and this shrub used to flower profusely in a garden opposite the hotel.

Primulas are providing a welcome splash of colour in the rockery - the new "waterfall" has now weathered and looks more natural.

Camelia in flower. Interestingly my neighbour has one that flowers just over the fence and the red flowers of that one attract far more insects and bees than our white variety.

Wood Anemones or Wind Flowers. At night and in wet weather the flowers close the sepals and droop their heads in order to protect their pollen. Folklore suggests that fairies curl up inside the flower having first pulled the curtains around themselves.

This lovely stone ornament is "Matilda" left to me by a great-aunt. Years ago when I was a child she used to sit at one end of a shell-shaped stone bird bath but, sadly, the many house moves my aunt undertook resulted in the bird bath and pedestal finally cracking and falling to bits and only Matilda survived.

Bluebells are coming into flower.

Green Alkanet has suddenly appeared in one of the borders which I'm really pleased about. Its somehow self-seeded itself from outside the garden so I'll be counting this one for the 365 challenge!

Cowslips have spread around the garden from the original few plants. The one in the photo below is flowering in the wildflower meadow. Cowslips have a variety of country names such as Fairy Caps, key flower, St Peter's Keys, Our Lady's Cushion, Galligaskins and jackanapes on horses.

Apart from the occasional cropping, I don't edit my photos but I've altered the brightness and contrast in the photo below - to be honest I am not sure if its improved the picture or not!

Shakespeare referred to Cowslips in this fairy song from "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

"The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats, spots you see,
Those be rubies, fairy flavours,
In those freckles live their savours..
I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear."

This pile of branches in the wooded area at the top of the garden used to provide a home for hedgehogs although I haven't seen one now for a couple of years. The wood pile will though provide habitat for invertebrates and small mammals and I live in hope the hedgehogs will return.

Honesty - due to its transulucent, papery seed heads has many alternative names such as pennywort, money flower, moonwort, silver plate, white satin, lunary, money-in-both-pockets and silks and satins.

Dandelions are flowering everywhere. Whenever I see this plant I always remember the most delicious Dandelion Wine which my father used to make years ago.

In the language of flowers the dandelion means Oracle originating from folklore which suggests that if you manage to blow off all the seeds of the seedhead in one breath, your wish will come true!

Reference: "Discovering the Folklore of Plants" by Margaret Baker
"The Complete Language of Flowers" by Sheila Pickles