Saturday, 8 February 2020

Blue Skies at Snape, the Calm before the Storm

It is always a joy when the first spring flowers appear, and these bright yellow Aconites at Snape this afternoon were the first ones I have seen in 2020.

The reedbeds were shimmering in front of the poplars...

...and large swathes of the sandy soil had been ploughed.

This was the view, looking back to the Maltings, with its cafes, shops and famous concert hall.

I saw one tiny fish in the water and a couple of flies or midges above it, but it was really the reed reflections that caught my eye.

The gulls were out in force.

There were a few small waders and some Shelduck in among them.

This is St Botolph's church, across the water at Iken.

These small flecks of green must indicate new growth in the reedbed.

I wonder who will find these remaining rosehips.

The land here is very flat, and I love the marked bands of colour - green, gold, blue, more green and more blue - that can be seen.

We stopped to listen for birds, but apart from the cooing sound of some distant Wood Pigeons, we heard very little above the sounds of an aeroplane overhead, some traffic in the distance and what was probably the motor of some kind of farm machinery.

There may not have been much sound on the marsh, but the view from the boardwalk is always rather special, with these stark trunks. Robert Macfarlane called these skeleton trees 'rampikes' on his Twitter feed on 24 September 2019. I always thought that trees like these had been struck by lightning, but I believe these ones may have been damaged by flooding.

On the east coast of the USA, stands of waterlogged trees are known as ghost forests. You can just see Iken church through the bare branches.

I'm guessing a Muntjac has been making its way through the reeds on a fairly regular basis.

There was a last shimmer of light as we took a last look at the poplars.

The moon rose over the water...

... as our shadows began to lengthen.

Gusts in the high 60s (mph) are predicted for our area tomorrow (i.e. for Sunday 9 February). Do check the forecast if you are out and about.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

A Winter Afternoon at Shingle Street

Some of you may know Shingle Street or may know of it from Blake Morrison's poetry collection of the same name. For me it epitomises what is wild about the Suffolk coast. It can be bleak, and rumour has it that the bitter east winds blow in from Siberia. The ruggedness is what draws us back. We have watched seals here, though there were none in evidence this afternoon.

Visibility was cloudy but quite good on the shore, as you can tell from the photo above. The picture further up the coast was a bit different: in the photo below you can just make out the Orfordness Lighthouse through a rather otherworldly haze.

The sun kept coming and going during our time on the beach. The next photo shows the shoreline in the foreground, then the shingle spit, with Orfordness in the distance. You can make out the red and white bands of the decommissioned lighthouse more clearly in this shot.

There appeared to be very few birds about except for the gulls, two Redshanks in the tidal stream and the strings of Cormorants who flew past in a southerly direction.

The picture of the red and white bell-buoy below was taken with my zoom extended.

There were quite a few empty shells mixed in with the shingle...

... like this Oyster shell in the photo below, suggesting that the gulls had found some easy pickings.

It would be wonderful if there were seals hauled out on this sandbar next time...

The tide was on the low side, but was not particularly low.

This next picture shows a brackish pool, surrounded by a covering of green salt-resistant vegetation. There are many rare plants at Shingle Street.

To the right of the Whelk you can see some small green leaves beginning to reappear.

There were one or two toadstools in the mossy areas, and while I know they can favour damp conditions, I was surprised to find them tolerant of the salt.

I am not sure I have been able to identify the succulent-like plant (Sedum Acre, Biting Stonecrop?) in the photo below yet, but it was beginning to grow in all directions. There is a good vegetation list for the area here.

How's this for an empty beach!

By 3.45 pm the light was pretty low...

It was time to head home for a cup of tea.

Previous Shingle Street posts

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Spring Colour

Despite strong winds we have had patches of fine sunshine today in the garden. I hadn't been over to the far fence for some time and was delighted to stumble upon this show of 'naturalising' Cyclamen. We had a tiny pot of them some years ago, and now suddenly they have taken off! Is this due to our relatively frost-free winter, do you think? Apparently the Cyclamen we buy here in the UK have their origins in the wild, especially in places around the Mediterranean.

It's still over a month until St David's Day, but we couldn't resist these small Daffodils (or are they Narcissus?). We planted them in with the miniature Iris you see below, and I couldn't help noticing that the yellow and blue colours match those of a certain flag...

We visited a local nursery to buy our plants this afternoon, rather than the commercial garden centres, but I wonder when biodegradable pots will become the norm. I do hope it will be soon. Small plastic flowerpots (like the one with the daffs) are not much use to us once the plants have been planted out. The plastic container with the Iris was bought years ago before the plastic issue became so well known and so pressing. It has been reused many times and, since we have it, will doubtless continue to house new plants as needs arise. How do you keep plastic to a minimum in your gardening endeavours, I wonder?

While we were outside, we couldn't help noticing how unfazed the birds seemed by our presence. Robin, Starling, Long-tailed and Blue tits simply carried on eating the fat and seeds in the coconut feeders. I even saw a large Queen Bumblebee looping the loop. How long before my first butterfly sighting?

Thursday, 30 January 2020

New Garden Visitor

We have been delighted this last week by the arrival of a new garden visitor: meet the Blackcap!

In fact, we have two for the price of one as a female (see below, 3rd and 4th pictures) has joined the male who features in the top two photos. If, like us, you spot these birds in the UK over the winter months, your sightings can be logged here. Since the 1960s more and more Blackcaps have been staying here all year round.

These photos were taken through glass on a dull day, but I think you can easily see that the male has a black cap. Well, no surprises there. The female, on the other hand, has a rich chestnut top to her head, so it is easy to distinguish between the sexes. 

Blackcaps are not rare: they have been awarded Green Conservation Status. However, it is always a thrill when a new species of bird is spotted in our home patch. As you can see below, the Blackcap is 'our' 27th bird to date. It is also our 1st new species for 2020. Blackcaps are members of the Warbler family. The RSPB site describes their song as 'fluting'.

The male Blackcap in our garden bides his time in the ivy around the coconut feeder, then when he feels the moment has come, he moves in and asserts his position in the pecking order. The female seems less feisty: she oftens waits to appear until the Great tits and Robin have stepped back. 

Avian sightings in our home patch: unlike the rules for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, a bird seen clearly from the house or garden counts for my purposes. We have, for example, yet to see a Grey Heron landing in our home patch, but I have had good sightings of these birds flying over in the direction of the local nature reserve, one road away, and perching on a neighbour's roof. We have often heard the local Tawny Owl, but I am not counting 'birds heard' (unless they are also seen) at present. [R] indicates a regular visitor and [O] an occasional one.  
  • HPb1   Great Spotted Woodpecker [O] [2019]
  • HPb2   Great tit [R] 
  • HPb3   Long-tailed tit [R] 
  • HPb4   Blackbird [R]
  • HPb5   Song Thrush  [27 April 2019 - a pair]  
  • HPb6   Blue tit [R]
  • HPb7   Robin  [R] 
  • HPb8   Magpie [R] 
  • HPb9   Wood Pigeon  [R] 
  • HPb10 Dunnock [R] 
  • HPb11 Starling [R] 
  • HPb12 Carrion Crow [R] 
  • HPb13 Goldfinch  [R]
  • HPb14 Jay [O]
  • HPb15 Green Woodpecker [O]
  • HPb16 Wren [O]
  • HPb17 Bullfinch [19 January 2017]  
  • HPb18 Sparrowhawk
  • HPb19 Mallard 
  • HPb20 House Sparrow [1 June 2019] 
  • HPb21 Chaffinch 
  • HPb22 Grey Heron
  • HPb23 Collared Dove [R]
  • HPb24 Coal tit  
  • HPb25 Redwing [20 January 2017] 
  • HPb26 Kestrel  [8 June 2017]  
  • HPb27 Blackcap  [30 January 2020 - a pair]  

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Early Signs of Spring in St Mary's Churchyard, Martlesham

A few years ago a couple of local friends suggested that we should go and see the spring flowers in the churchyard of St Mary's church above the river Deben in Suffolk. On that occasion the carpet of crocuses was so spectacular that we have returned once or twice each spring. We paid a first 2020 visit last weekend, and were particularly heartened by the plentiful drifts of snowdrops.

We were a bit early for the crocuses, but there were a few purple, white and orange ones here and there.

I grew up in East Anglia, and have loved the flintstone facings one encounters ever since. 

The snowdrops and crocus...

...were joined by a clump of primroses.

The next photo, taken just below the church and gravestones in the photo above, is a sign of things to come. 

More snowdrops...

...and hidden among the leaves, a single Daisy.

'The snowdrops first—the dawning gray;
Then out the roses burn!
They speak their word, grow dim—away
To holy dust return.'

From: The Flower-Angels
by George MacDonald (1824-1905)