Monday 30 March 2015

Blossoms of Hope Collaboration

And now for something a little different and rather special. My kind and creative friend and poetic collaborator, Kay Weeks (in the USA), has done a wonderful and spirited watercolour inspired by my one of my photographs of Loch Scavaig on the Isle of Skye. Kay's painting is the blue and indigo one in the centre of the invitation card above.

Travellers love to cross the unpredictable waters of the sea loch to reach the magical Loch Coruisk, painted so vividly by Turner and described by Sir Walter Scott as 'that dread lake'.

Loch Coruisk ...

... with its guardians

I am touched and humbled that Kay has chosen to put her painting of my photo forward as part of the Portraits and Profiles: Inspirations in my Life project to raise the profile of Blossoms of Hope, an organisation that supports the Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center of Howard County General Hospital. 

Thank you, Kay! 
Rendez-vous in Philadelphia: me (left), Kay (centre), David Gill (left)

Tuesday 24 March 2015

7-spot Ladybird at NT Anglesey Abbey

We visited NT Anglesey Abbey some days ago, and right on cue in the woodland 'Wildlife Discovery Area', we saw a 7-spot Ladybird. I expect it had been overwintering in a peaceful spot.

I have added the record to my iSpot account via the UK Ladybird Survey site

As you will guess from the greenery below, the photo of the Abbey was taken on a previous occasion, but I thought it would give a certain context to the post if I included it again! 

Friday 20 March 2015

The (Non-event) Eclipse from a Suffolk Window

The solar eclipse, the most significant since 11 August 1999, was the event that never really happened in my neck of the woods. This is the day on which the moon travels between us and the sun, thereby covering the earth in shadow.

I confess I was a bit disappointed that there was so little to see after all the hype. But surely the 'not-seeing' is just as interesting in scientific terms as the 'seeing'. (@OED) tweeted a helpful reminder at about 9.35 am, explaining the true meaning of the trilingual origin of the word 'eclipse'; and having read it, I felt reassured that I had at least witnessed the failure 'to appear' of the billed phenomenon!

The solar eclipse was due to peak at 9.33 in my part of Suffolk, when the moon was at its closest to the centre of the sun. I kept a watchful eye out and posted the following observations on Facebook:

  • 8 minutes to the max. (partial) solar eclipse in Ipswich, but we have woken to a cloudy morning.
  • 7 minutes. Robin sings on a Silver Birch branch.
  • 4 minutes. A flutter of pigeons.
  • 2 minutes. Sentinel Robin still singing.
  • 1 minute. Robin joined by Blue tit. Robin continues to sing.
  • and finally, 24 minutes ago. The moment has passed and the Robin is still singing ...

I hope there was something a little more spectacular to see from your window. Apologies for any odd spaces in this post: do I attribute these to the usual vagaries of the internet or to a certain natural phenomenon?

Further information
    • From The Daily Mail: precautions taken in ZSL Butterfly Paradise to ensure the safety of night creatures like moths

    Saturday 14 March 2015

    Spring at NT Ickworth (another visit)

    We saw three Nuthatches this afternoonat NT Ickworth.

    The first one we saw was high up in a tree, but it flew down, and we noticed two others on the ground. 

    The Robin attracted our attention with its song ...

    Meanwhile, a little further into the park, the lambs were drawing a small crowd. 

    Some were curled up at the base of a tree and others were looking alert. 

    This pair, presumably twins, walked about in tandem, nudging up against each other as they went.

    This little one was the closest to a black lamb ...

    Notice the lovely markings on the ewe's face.

    We noticed a few Grey Squirrels ...

    like this one ...

    ... who was making the most of its nut. 

    You can see the Ickworth rotunda here ...

    We have seen an Egyptian Goose here before, and right on cue, this one appeared before our eyes ...

    There seem to be quite a lot in East Anglia.

    While we were admiring the goose, we noticed a charm of Goldfinches high up in one of the trees ...

    The goose seemed to be looking for something, but we did not see a partner on this occasion. 

     There were some lovely clumps of Snowdrops and Primroses ...

    This tiny Wren was scampering about on the bark.

    On our way out of the park, we noticed an insect enclosure.

    The arrows (clockwise from top) show:

    • an high rise insect house, ideal for overwintering Ladybirds etc. 
    • a path to allow the visitor to observe without disturbing the wildlife.
    • a tree (there were several) providing bark in winter and leafy habitats in summer. 
    • dry leaves and clumps of vegetation, again for insect homes, but also for food. 
    • mossy tree roots, another kind of habitat for woodlice, snails, beetles etc.
    • notice boards with beetle and butterfly identification guides.

    NT Ickworth - a lovely place for a walk in the spring sunshine!

    Thursday 12 March 2015

    Peacock - My First Butterfly of 2015

    I saw a butterfly - my first of 2015 - fluttering past me at the front of our house this morning. I thought it was a Peacock, but it was a bit high to tell for sure. Then this afternoon I definitely saw a Peacock in the back garden.

    I feel this is quite late in the year to be seeing my first butterfly! We have had the occasional moth practically all through the winter.

    There was no time to get a picture of today's Peacock (it was too quick), so here's one I photographed earlier ...
     You can find early Butterfly sightings here on the Butterfly Conservation site. I recall seeing a Peacock on 14 February one year in South Wales, with snow on the ground.

    Wednesday 11 March 2015

    My First Lamb at NT Ickworth, Bury St Edmunds

    We had a lovely visit to NT Ickworth on Saturday.
    The Canada Geese were patrolling the pond. 
    We checked for spawning frogs, but could see no sign of amphibian life.

    David saw this bird of prey looking on
    while I was watching ...

    ... a distant Great Spotted Woodpecker high up in a tree. 
    The red patch of feathers on the nape of the neck indicates a male.

    It was a bright spring afternoon, as you can see,
    and although the park was full of people, there were quiet corners to be found ...

    ... some more accessible than others! 
    We think this puffed out ball of fluff may be a young Buzzard
    Do leave a comment if you know otherwise. 
    We thought at first it was an owl, but a quick glance through binoculars
    showed that this was not the case. 

    We had a quick look around the Abbey Gardens
    in Bury St Edmunds,
    where the Grey Squirrels are very friendly. 

    But before we left Ickworth,
    we managed to spot a single lamb,
    our first of 2015.
    But it seems that there are or will be about 1999 more!

    Tuesday 10 March 2015

    Inspiration and Inspiring Bloggers

    My thanks to Juliet Wilson, known to most of us in the blogosphere as Crafty Green Poet. Juliet has nominated me for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. On those infrequent occasions when I am offered a blog award, I rarely feel able to accept these days. I would ask you, therefore, to view this particular acceptance as a mark of gratitude to Juliet for all she has done and continues to do to keep us in our proverbial 'green wellies' as we go about our lives on and off screen. Juliet's creativity is, I'm sure, an inspiration to many as it is to me.

    So thank you, Juliet, and here are the rules... 

    1. Thank the person who nominated you, and link to their blog. (Please see above)

    2. Display the award logo. (Please see above)

    3. Nominate 15 other bloggers - more or less - and provide a link where they may be found. (Please see list below. I am following in Juliet's tracks and nominating nine ... for now at least)

    4. Go to their blog, leave a comment to let them know they have been nominated. (Box ticked)

    5. Mention three things that inspired you the most during the past few weeks. (Box ticked - see below)

    * * *  
    A rainbow ... what could be more inspiring?

     Three Things that have inspired me during the past few weeks ...
    •  Watching a 7-spot ladybird emerge from overwintering on a sunny afternoon of early spring. I find it fascinating to discover the measures that creatures large and small will undertake in a bid to survive the extremities of the winter season. Did you know that here in the UK the only animals who truly go into hibernation are our hedgehogs, bats and dormice? There is a good BBC AutumnWatch post on hibernation here by Tim Schoones. We have Grey Squirrels in the trees that line the local nature reserve just beyond our suburban garden, and I often see them scampering about in the winter months.   
    •  Attending the Norfolk Festival of Nature (my account is here), and hearing Mark Cocker, Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson, Helen Smith (scientist) and Sheila Tilmouth (artist) speaking about the natural world and our need to ensure that appropriate conservation measures are adopted. This includes the education of our young scholars of today custodians of tomorrow, who need not only to learn but to love 'threatened' words such as 'acorn' and 'bluebell'. The festival writing workshop, 'In Woods', led by Dr Jonathan Ward was equally inspiring. 
    •  Standing in a WWT Welney hide at sunset, waiting for swans to sweep in from the sugar beet fields, and catching the remarkable spectacle of Lapwing taking to the skies as one. Do you only have a 'murmuration' of Starlings or corvids, I wonder?

     * * *  

    And now I offer the Very Inspiring Blogger Award to the following bloggers (in alphabetical order of their blog titles and with the confirmation that each nominee has been notified via his or her Comments box):

     A Photo a Day by Larry D. I like the concept and the discipline of this kind of photo journalism. Larry is versatile and has several blogs! 

    A Year in the Life of my Wildlife Garden by Ragged Robin. This is a great idea. I love to start lists, but often fail to keep them going. The Tree Year project has helped me to focus.
    Dartmoor Ramblings by Em Parkinson. Em's observations are incredible. Her photography of this wonderful part of the world is fabulous!  

    FlightFeather by Elaine Ewart, who blogs about wildlife and poetry and has just been awarded Second Prize in the inaugural New Welsh Writing Awards
    Jennifer Tetlow - a fascinating blog about Jennifer's sculpture and artwork practices and processes, often linked to the natural world.  

    Loose and Leafy by Lucy Corrander. Lucy is the face of Tree Following, the monthly meme that unites tree bloggers across the globe. 

    My Life Outside by Adam Tilt, who writes superbly about his wildlife forays, particularly on Gower (Wales) and on Mull (Scotland). 

    Polyolbion by Matt Merritt. Matt is a key person for keeping the dual worlds of poetry and ornithology before our eyes.

    The Quiet Walker by Amanda Peters. Amanda does wonderful wildlife posts, based on her observations. Amanda's blog is always full of photos. 

    Saturday 7 March 2015

    Tree Following ~ Silver Birch during February to March 2015



    This post is the twelfth in my Tree Following series, part of a wider project run by Lucy Corrander from the Loose and Leafy blog. I am following a Silver Birch, B. pendula, in Suffolk, UK. You will find the other Tree Follower links on the Loose and Leafy blog ... so do take the chance to catch up with happenings in the arboreal world!

    I shall make a firm decision in the days ahead, but I shall probably decide to keep up with my Silver Birch for another year, as it may be interesting to compare and contrast some of my 2014 and 2015 observations. However, I have almost decided to add in a 'bonus tree' ... so watch this space.

    Although Silver Birch trees have been in the news as a backdrop to the scene that has gone viral of the Green Woodpecker and the Weasel, I felt that there was surprisingly little to report, back here at the ranch this month. I had hoped for more signs of spring, and indeed they are there, but you still have to keep a sharp eye open for them. A shrub in our front garden is just beginning to come into leaf, and I shall be delighted when the Silver Birch shows signs of green growth.

    Arrows showing (right) few signs of new growth and lower down (left), the branches almost in leaf (close-up below)

    For the time-being I must content myself with the catkins that 'sprout' in pairs from the end of all but the highest bare branches and the tight 'leaf buds' that can be seen if you look carefully.

    New growth on its way!

    Goldfinch heading for the Silver Birch

    Diary Entry

    Thursday 5 March 2015
    Time: 14.05
    Weather: cool and bright

    Just as I was feeling a tiny bit despondent about the lack of recent birdlife in my home patch, a strange noise made me prick up my ears. Something was afoot, and it sounded like a disturbance of some kind. I looked out the window as quickly as I could, only to see the distinctive body of a Sparrow Hawk, as it flew past the birch fronds at some speed and headed on towards the tall trees that line the local nature reserve beyond. As I type the danger has passed, but there is a distinct hush, and I imagine the small birds lying low in the undergrowth. I expect the will resume their spring songs in due course. I suspect the disturbing noise was caused by the Magpies in response to the arrival of the bird of prey.   

    Postscript: two of the first birds to be seen some thirty minutes later were the Bullfinches, adding their distinctive sparkle to the scene. The male's rosy colour shows up particularly well in the bare twigs.

    I wasn't quick enough with the camera ...
     so here's one I took earlier! 


    One or two of the local birds are turning their attention to the breeding season, and pairing up in preparation, though the lively Long-tailed Tits have been noticeable by their absence. I thought I would turn to poets and song-writers who have been drawn to the Silver Birch. I have a strong recollection of a happy day (c.1971) around the camp fire during our Brownie Revels, singing the Canadian folk song, 'Land of the Silver Birch, home of the beaver', as we munched our baked potatoes and toasted marshmallows. The song rings in my ears to this day, reminding me that our suburban tree would probably have been better suited to a more rugged existence in northern climes. Strangely in her poem, 'Child's Song in Spring', Edith Nesbit (of The Railway Children) described the Silver Birch as 'a dainty lady' in 'a satin gown'. I came across this rather lovely Silver Birch poem by James Nash for Valentine's Day.

    Tree Following Sighting Update  . . .

    I have marked the 'wild things' seen during this last month in yellow.

    Avian sightings (on, in and around the Silver Birch, seen at any time in the last 11 months) are in pink.

    I saw a 7-spot Ladybird just outside my Tree Following range this month, so am looking forward to more invertebrate signs of the new season in the days ahead. I have also seen two Bumblebees, but neither were bear the Silver Birch. There have been a few moths, and each time I see one, I am conscious how shamefully little I know about these fly-by-nights.  

    • TFb1   Great Spotted Woodpecker 
    • TFb2   Great tit (several, often on feeder) 
    • TFb3   Long-tailed Tit
    • TFb4   Blackbird (I saw four at once, but no sign of the bald one) 
    • TFb5   Song Thrush   
    • TFb6   Blue tit (several frequently on feeder)
    • TFb7   Robin (frequent appearances)
    • TFb8   Magpie (about three frequently around below the feeder)
    • TFb9   Wood Pigeon (up to ten perching around the feeder area)
    • TFb10 Dunnock (two frequently below feeder)  
    • TFb11 Starling (several on feeder, noisy!)
    • TFb12 Carrion Crow    
    • TFb13 Goldfinch 
    • TFb14  Jay
    • TFb15  Green Woodpecker
    • TFb16  Wren 
    • TFb17  Bullfinch (a pair)
    • TFb18  Sparrowhawk

    Mammal sightings include ...

    • TFm1 (?Wood) Mouse
    • TFm2 Bats
    • TFm3 Shrew
    • TFm4 Grey Squirrel

    On the insect front, sightings include ...

    • TFi1 Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly [March 2014]
    • TFi2 Buff-tailed Bumblebee [March 2014] 
    • TFi3 Brimstone Butterfly [April 2014]
    • TFi4 7-spot Ladybird [April 2014] [October 2014]
    • TFi5 Skipper Butterfly [July 2014]
    • TFi6 Meadow Brown Butterfly [July 2014]
    • TFi7 Large White Butterfly [July 2014]
    • TFi8 14-spot Yellow Ladybirds [July 2014]
    • TFi9 Small White Butterfly [May 2014]
    • TFi10 Orange tip Butterfly [May 2014]
    • TFi11 Harlequin ladybird [May 2014]
    • TFi12 Garden Chafer (Phyllopertha horticola) [June 2014] 
    • TFi13 Ruby-tail Wasp [June 2014 
    • TFi14 Blackfly [June 2014
    • TFi15 Marmalade Hoverfly [July 2014]
    • TFi16 Shield bug [July 2014]
    • TFi17 Migrant Hawker dragonflies [July 2014]
    • TFi18 Unidentified Damselfly [August 2014]
    • TFi19 Comma butterfly [August 2014]
    • TFi20 Red Admiral butterfly [August 2014] [October 2014]
    • TFi21 Peacock butterfly [August 2014]
    • TFi22 Green bottle flies [August 2014]
    • TFi23 Ants [August 2014]
    • TFi24 Squashbug aka Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus [August 2014]
    • TFi25 Birch Shieldbug (late instar?) [September 2014]
    • TFi26 Lacewing [October 2014] (about fifteen) 
    • TFi27 Harlequin Ladybird [October 2014] 
    • TFi28 Moths (though not so many in December) [November/December 2014] [February/March 2015]


    Thursday 5 March 2015

    7-spot Ladybird in Suffolk

    This 7-spot Ladybird was very close to our Suffolk home. I imagine a bit of sunshine had caused the insect to arise from its overwintering state. You can see the early signs of new spring growth on the shrub.

    I have just added this sighting to iRecord so that the information can be used by the UK Ladybird Survey

    Monday 2 March 2015

    Norfolk Festival of Nature - From Acorns to Fen Raft Spiders

    I have just returned from two stimulating days at the Norfolk Festival of Nature.

    We arrived at The Auden Theatre at Gresham's on Friday evening in time for an excellent talk on the rare (IUCN Red Listed) Fen Raft Spider, which is the subject of my ZSL poem.

    Fen Raft Spider Trail sign at Redgrave and Lopham Fen

    The speakers were Dr Helen Smith, a plant ecologist and spare-time conservationist, and Sheila Tilmouth, Artist in Residence to the Fen Raft Spider, a position that was initially funded by Arts Council England. Dr Helen Smith has headed Natural England’s conservation programme for the Fen Raft species and has carried out successful work by establishing new populations in Broadland. She is currently president of the British Arachnological Society. Helen and Sheila gave a first-rate presentation on this large spider's life cycle, sharing aspects of its struggle for survival on SWT Redgrave and Lopham Fen. You can read about their book, On the Margins: the Fen Raft Spiders of Redgrave and Lopham Fen, here and here. It comes highly recommended.   

    SWT information board at Redgrave and Lopham Fen

    Then on Saturday afternoon I attended a Writing Workshop in the Woods, led by Gresham's English Master, Dr Jonathan Ward. This proved a fascinating experience as we encountered rain, graffiti, smoke, an open-air theatre, strong gusts of wind and a press photographer from the local paper as we made our 'way through the woods'.

    We were given stimulating writing assignments and I much look forward to honing my scribbles. What a privilege to read an early woodland poem by Auden in the grounds of his old school! The workshop reading list included Harriet Tarlo's challenging anthology of radical landscape poetry, The Ground Aslant, which accompanied me on our trip.

    Capturing detail: a scrap of bark, subject of my draft poem

    We attended the Festival Launch with Mark Cocker, whose work I have long admired. Mark's Crow Country has to be one of my top books on the natural world on account of his precise and compelling descriptions of corvids gathering in the Yare Valley, prior to their evening roost. I am currently reading Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet, which is an equally stimulating read, packed with exquisite observations about a part of the world (home of my teenage years) that is close to my heart.

    There were rumours that Margaret Atwood and her partner, Graeme Gibson, were going to appear on the podium to address the audience, and these proved to be true. Margaret and the panel discussed the emotive subject of losing nature words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The thought that the word 'acorn' could be dropped from an English dictionary caused a particularly noticeable ripple. If you are on Twitter take a look at #naturewords.

    The Norfolk Festival of Nature is rapidly gaining ground. There are vast hopes, dreams and plans afoot for residencies and the like in a bid to bring the wonders - and fragility - of the natural world before the county. Dr Al Cormack is Director of the Festival of Nature and Head of English at Gresham’s. He is the author of Yeats and Joyce and several articles on contemporary literature. Before coming to Gresham’s he taught the literary modules on the MA Creative Writing at UEA.

    There was a brief discussion about ways of engaging the public, perhaps particularly with the future of the Festival and the younger generation in mind. I shall watch this space with great interest. Meanwhile, I would like to express sincere thanks to all who have helped to make this year's Festival activities so thought-provoking, enjoyable and worthwhile. 

    Festival Themes
    Fen Raft Spider