Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Summer Fun

This summer the bird that has given me most amusement in the garden is the pigeon. The latest one is Kung Foo Pigeon:)  He has decided the garden is his territory and whilst he will tolerate most of the visiting birds, he will not tolerate other Pigeons, Magpies or Crows.  He demonstrates his disapproval by raising a threatening wing and, if the trespasser dares to come closer, a quick karate chop sees off the offender. This has been particularly welcomed by the Pheasants as the Crows and Magpies like to play a game of 'Who can get the Pheasant's Tail' causing several of the more unfortunate Pheasants to have bald bottoms!!:))

It has to have been the nicest summer we have had for several years (at least in the SE) and I am hoping this good weather will last a little longer so that we have a good day for the Downland Project's Countryside Day on Sunday 15th September (Banstead Woods, Holly Lane, CR5 3NR.  10.30am to 4.30pm).  This is a really good day out with lots to do for all the family so well worth going to.

The project always takes along some of its sheep to the show and this year we are trying hard to make the livestock stand a bit more interesting.  One of the things I have been working on is a display to show how animals graze differently and why we therefore use different animals for different sites.  To do this I needed photos of the incisors (the biting teeth) of the different animals we use.  This was not a problem with the sheep (this is the mouth of the all obliging Granny Alice mentioned in previous posts:)...

...and the ponies were easy too (Tavey is grooming Rufus hence what looks like grey hairy grass:)....

...but try getting a cow to open its mouth and, with the cow, I also needed a photo with its tongue included as it is integral to its eating habits.  I searched Google images and the Internet and only found one photo which was not really clear enough so I needed to find an obliging cow that I could get to open its mouth and say "Ahhh," for me to take the photo myself.  Cutting a long story short I did manage it and can now proudly present my photo (I think I am going to copyright it as it is so rare:)) of a cow's mouth....

It always amazes me how obliging animals, large and small, can be when one takes the time to gain their trust (all be it with a morsel of carrot) and communicate with them.

On Bank Holiday Monday, hubby and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Edenbridge and Oxted Agricultural Show.  It is a huge show with crowds of people and lots with dogs but I didn't see one dog misbehaving (I saw lots of children misbehaving though, getting very fractious, understandably as it was a long, hot day:)).  I also didn't see any particularly bad behaviour in any of the livestock classes I watched. There were classes for dogs, horses, donkeys, cows, sheep, pigs, rabbits and chickens and even a parade of cattle where several animals of each breed, including bulls and calves (probably in excess of 50 animals!!) were walked from their pens, across the showground, to the main arena where they were led around for the large audience to see and they mostly remained calm and amenable all the time...just incredible. My favourites, as always, were the horses, particularly the fantastic Shires (I am a bit biased as I used to ride a Shire who was a very kind, gentle giant).  It was good to see so many of these beautiful horses at the show...

At the beginning of August hubby and I had a few days away staying in Alfriston, a little village nestled in the South Downs.  It is only about an hours drive from us and we frequently used to take our children for days out here, kayaking on the River Cuckmere Meanders, but we have never actually spent any length of time exploring the area on foot...Wow... what a beautiful area it is with fantastic chalk grassland and amazing views, definitely deserving of its recently awarded National Park status.  Our most enjoyable walk started at the National Trust's 'Up and Over' car park situated above the White Horse...

From here we walked down through chalk grassland covered in colourful plants like Viper's-bugloss...

...and pretty Common centaury...

There were spectacular views...

Once down in the valley we strolled along by the River Cuckmere Cut to the Seven Sisters Visitors Centre where we stopped for lunch and then followed the South Downs Way up the other side which gave us even better views of the Cuckmere Meanders and sea...

We continued to follow the South Downs Way into Littlington village where we stopped for coffee. Then the path took us alongside the river again and back up through fields of chalk grassland covered in snails (yet to be identified if there are any snail experts reading this)...(also note the diverse number of plant species around the tiny snails in what must be only a three or four inches square..wow:) ...

We arrived back at the hotel where a lovely meal awaited us.  It was one of the best walks I have ever done and worth it even though I have been suffering ever since as I am still awaiting my op to repair the torn cartilage in my knee. The op is scheduled for the 26th Sept so, fingers crossed, by my next post it should be over with and I will soon be able to get back to The Thames Path walk which we aim to pick up again after Christmas. I am sooo looking forward to feeling normal again and to sleep through the night without waking up everytime I move and I have promised my husband (who has had to put up with my frequent moaning) that I will act my age and never again climb over a sheep hurdle carrying a heavy bale of hay!! :)))

Sunday, 4 August 2013

I Blame the Weather

There still seems to be a lack of insects in our valley.  The butterflies have picked up a little but numbers still seem low and there is a noticeable absence of all the Blues which are usually so prevalent in my garden and surrounding area.  There are also very few bees and not so many ants (we are usually over-run) and there is a marked decrease in the number of snails and slugs (the vegetables and Hostas are doing well though :)).

I just hope the numbers of these creatures recover quickly as it is having a knock on effect with other things that live in our garden. In the early summer we were finding slow worms everywhere; we couldn't put anything down without finding a slow worm under it the next day, but now there seem to be very few.  Also our bat numbers seem to be going down. We've had a bat roost for all the 37 years we have been here so I would be devastated if we lost them.  This thought brought it home as to how awful the situation is in North America where a fungus called the 'White Nose Syndrome,' has killed an estimated 7 million bats and is still spreading fast!!

Thankfully when we took my mother to visit a Lavender farm that is not too far away there were plenty of bees (although hardly any honey bees).

I can remember my mother telling me about bumble bees when I was a very young child as I had tried to stroke the furry back of a poorly bumble to make it feel better but it promptly stung me:) Sadly, with the progression of her Alzheimer's, it was my mother asking me what the things were that were flying around and what the spiky, purple plants were. She really enjoyed the visit though which was the most important thing, although, by the next day it was totally forgotten.

Some time ago we registered to take part in Plantlife's Wildflower Count and this week we received a map showing the kilometre square in which Plantlife would like us to carry out the count, as well as a useful little booklet on flower recognition and details off what we need to do.  Basically we have to do a 1 km walk within our alloted square, recording what flowers we see in a 2m strip, either to the left or right of the path and/or survey a plot of 5x5m or 1x20m.  They just ask for the survey to be carried out once or twice between 1st April and 30th September so not very taxing but extremely worthwhile.  Please consider doing it. To register on line go to www.plantlife.org.uk

I was very excited to see that the plot we had been allocated was in the grassland directly behind Charles Darwin's house and garden in Downe (which is only a couple of mile from us).  He would have walked this area himself many times but it would have then probably been full of chalk grassland flowers. It has changed a  lot since his day as the field we walked through looked like it had been cultivated in the past but is now being left to recover and there is also a large golf course now in situ. Never the less we recorded 47 different plants (but sadly not many chalk indicators) and, as we foolishly did our survey on the hottest day of the year, we followed the walk with a much needed, thirst quenching glass of cold larger and some chips at the local pub. A very enjoyable day.

Now we have sold my mother's bungalow we are starting to catch up with things around our place.  The first task I needed to do was to get some control over the bit of field that adjoins our garden and was full of a block of 7ft high hogweeds, encroaching brambles, thistles, docks, ragwort and other invasive nasties.  I am fed up with these things spreading to our garden.  When I was helping to prepare the veg plot earlier this year I pulled up 22 spear thistles from area of about a square meter!!  I therefore decided that this year I would brush cut and rake the area of the field directly behind us before these plants went to seed.

Amongst the undergrowth I was very pleased to find one small bit of yellow rattle and one ox-eye daisy. They were surrounded by ragwort and hogweed but with a bit of continued care I have high hopes that eventually I can change this little area of the field for the better:)

This deer seemed to like what I had done and now frequently comes down to browse...

I get so much entertainment from my garden.  When the spell of hot, dry weather broke with a downpour of rain this pigeon immediately lifted his wing to shower his presumably smelly wing pits :))

This last month has been busy so we have not had much time to work with the conservation grazing livestock but several of the times when we have been out it was to help the assistant grazing officer by being on hand while he sheared the Project's sheep. This was no mean feat (the shearing that is, not the helping...that was easy :)  Shearing is a back breaking job especially if your muscles aren't used to it, the portable trimmers are heavy compared to professional shears and it was all carried out in extremely hot weather, not to mention that all the usual work associated with the livestock still had to be carried out.  I hope that Sean's efforts are duly recognised as it must have saved the Project hundreds of pounds. He hasn't been given the nick name of Superman just for jumping over gates!:)

Here is a picture showing Superman Sean shearing a shaggy sheep in shimmering sunshine (I am sure with a bit of time I could have come up with a better tongue twister :))

And lastly when trimming some of the sheep's feet the grazing officer found this little fellow which brought to mind a poem I had to put to music in a school exam and which I have liked ever since for the lovely feeling of summer it evokes..

Grasshopper Green 
by unknown author
Grasshopper Green is a comical chap;
     He lives on the best of fare.
Bright little trousers, jacket, and cap,
     These are his summer wear.
Out in the meadow he loves to go,
     Playing away in the sun;
It's hopperty, skipperty, high and low,
     Summer's the time for fun.

Grasshopper Green has a quaint little house;
     It's under the hedge so gay.
Grandmother Spider, as still as a mouse,
     Watches him over the way.
Gladly he's calling the children, I know,
     Out in the beautiful sun;
It's hopperty, skipperty, high and low,
     Summer's the time for fun.