Wildlife Wednesday – All Creatures Great and Small

The first Wednesday of March, one day after the beginning of our meteorological Spring is suddenly here. February flew by in a blur. The weather has veered from heavy rain and high winds to occasional sunshine and sharp frosty mornings.

Goldfinch on Rudbeckia seed head

Goldfinch on Rudbeckia seed head

The cold weather brought in a trio of Goldfinches, to feast on the seed heads of Rudbeckia, Teasels and Astilbe. The males and females are similar but females are slightly duller with less red on their face; the trio looked masculine. And made me glad I had not cut back any of the overwintering seed heads, despite the untidiness and my itchy fingers.

Snails

Revealed – Garden Snails

We kept warm by spending a whole week digging out the rocks and soil of an enormous ground elder, riddled and inherited rockery, most of which was wheelbarrowed into a large skip. As the drab brown sandstone rocks were dismantled, we discovered family groups of snails. As the food of Thrushes, snails always remind me of Summer and  listening to the ‘tap, tap, tap’ of a Thrush as the snail shell is bashed on something hard to reveal its contents – one of my favourite summer sounds.

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Helix aspersa Common Garden Snail

The larger mature snails hibernate during winter months and waken up in Spring. Mostly they were still dormant but one brave small snail began to explore. Shortly they will become more active especially on cloudy or rainy days, they dislike desiccating hot sun.

Common Garden Snail 'Foot'

Common Garden Snail ‘Foot’

Underneath the snail, which at it’s fastest is reported to travel 1.3 centimetres per second is a ‘foot’, a flatish muscular organ. Mucus is released to help the snail glide over rough surfaces, leaving a tell tale meandering trail. Apparently they have a complicated and interesting sex life and can produce 430 babies a year. On the upside they are one of natures cleaners, consuming debris, sadly they are also partial to a prized vegetable leaf. As well as Thrushes – Ducks, Lizards and Frogs eat snails. We’ve cleared the rockery area to make space for a recycled greenhouse and small pond with wildlife friendly planting where we hope visiting Frogs, Wild Ducks and Thrushes will have a field day on the snails.

Dunnock in the woodstore

Dunnock in the woodstore

Since my last Wildlife Wednesday post on our Robins, we haven’t seen any sign of nesting (yet) but the poor little Dunnocks, subject of many a Robin attack are nest building in one of our wood stores. This little brown bird also has an interesting sex life and pair up in unusual and complex ways. In their determination to carry on their gene pool, they can pair male and female, one male two females, one female two males and several males and several females. All very liberal!

Dunnock

Dunnock creeping along the ground

Hopefully when you read this, you are not eating. Often two males mate with one female , the female hopes both males will help her raise the chicks. The dominant male will try to remove the rivals sperm by pecking the female’s rear end (the cloaca – through which both faeces and eggs exit) and encourage her to eject it. Dominant male mating then follows. Liberal and ghastly!

Male Blackbird

Male Blackbird, usually a ground feeding bird.

Less complicated are our Blackbirds, this fellow is singing his heart out. The Black Feathered males with bright yellow bills and eye rings are easily identified. Juveniles are similar to females, the RSPB explain how to identify the juvenile male wing bars.

Female Blackbird

Female Blackbird or is it a year old juvenile?

We are quite hopeful there is a Blackbird nest just beyond our vegetable garden in an area of overgrown brambles, grasses and emerging wildflowers with pioneer native Alders growing along the drainage ditch and Birch trees colonising the bare areas. Both tree species will be rich in insect life, for the birds to forage on. Technically this area is a no mans land, land locked between houses and fields with no hope of future access. Many a snail and slug has been delivered here, for foraging creatures further up the food chain.

Edgeworthia chrysantha and Robin

Edgeworthia chrysantha and Robin

And finally on a more colourful note, this last photo was taken on Sunday morning in the RHS Wisley Garden, I had a couple of hours to while away waiting for my daughter to finish her netball training. As I leant forward to smell the fragrance of the Edgeworthia, a very round Robin hoped onto the branch, inches away from my face, one of those uplifting and life affirming moments. There is a great deal to worry about in life but there is also a great deal to be grateful for and enjoy in the natural world.

With many thanks as always to the lovely Tina and her wonderful Wildlife Wednesday meme, please take a look at other contributions from across the globe.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

Wordless Wednesday – Winter’s Headily Fragrant Sarcoccoca

Sarcococca confusa

Sarcococca confusa – tiny white flowers packing a powerful scent, followed by black berries

Sarcoccoca ruscifolia var chinensis

Tiny white flowers and last years red berries still remaining on Sarcoccoca ruscifolia var chinensis

Queen Bee on Sarcoccoca

After her winter hibernation Buff-tailed Queen Bumble Bee dusted in Sarcoccoca pollen seeking nectar.

Sarcoccoca

Sarcoccoca hookeriana var digyna, its tiny white winter flowers providing nectar and pollen for Honey Bees

Packing a powerful fragrance, three forms of Sarcoccoca in the Anglesea Abbey Winter Garden providing pollen and nectar for awakening Queen Bumbles and other Pollinators.

 

Gelli Uchaf, Wales and Noel Kingsbury

Last week we drove across country to Wales, a land of enormously varied and beautiful scenery, spectacular coastlines and Gelli Uchaf, the home and garden of Julian and Fiona Wormald in the west of Wales.

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View from the terrace of Gelli Ufach

Julian and Fiona live on the top of a hill in a welsh Longhouse and garden in challenging conditions but they have staggeringly beautiful views. He writes an intelligent, thought provoking and diverse blog, centred around their life and garden – The Garden Impressionists and some months ago Julian wrote about a planned workshop, Noel Kingsbury was holding in their garden ‘The Rabbits Eye View’. I have dipped in a few of Noel’s books and coupled with Julian’s accounts, the opportunity to attend ‘The Rabbits Eye View’ workshop and visit Julian and Fiona’s garden at the same time was irresistible.

Noel

Noel, jolly and entertaining in the Gelli Uchaf borders

We booked a short stay in a wonderful cottage, Felin Fach near Lampeter as either side of our 4 day break had unavoidable work commitments.  Wales is renown for rain but as our trip approached we were delighted to see a largely dry forecast.

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Water Butt at Gelli Uchaf, every vista has beautiful detail

Before the Thursday workshop, our Journey from home on the Tuesday to West Wales took us through the Brecon Beacons, designated a national park, part GeoPark and now also has International Dark Sky status too. An area covering 1,344 square kilometres with glorious rolling hills, home to the Hay on Wye Literary festival and invigorating walks.

Brecon Beacons

Brecon Beacons – Bales of Bracken

Part of the Brecon Beacons is common land, which means that local farmers have the right to graze livestock and to take or use some of the natural products. Here the right of ‘estovers’ – the right to cut and collect certain plants such as the bracken, which is cut in Autumn and baled, then used as bedding for farm animals.

Bracken and Gorse on Brecon Beacons Mynydd IIItud common land

Bracken and Gorse on Brecon Beacons Mynydd IIItud common land

We arrived at our cottage, way after night fall as looking for something to eat in Wales is like looking for the proverbial needle in a Bracken stack, especially in autumn. Lesson learnt we stocked up at the first opportunity and Wednesday morning set off for the coastline in search of the National Trust owned Stackpole Estate and Barafundle Bay, which according to the Trust is often voted one of the most beautiful bays in the World.

Barafundle Bay

Barafundle Bay

We drove along some of the route my husband had cycled on two years ago, up huge hills and down again with glimpses of the coast and finally arrived at National Trust owned Stackpole, parked in the almost empty car park and walked on to Barafundle Bay, we were not disappointed, even with a watery cool autumnal sky, the sea was still very blue, we walked on further until the weather changed and a squall of rain came in, then headed back to the car and the journey back to our cottage. No road is quick in Wales, as they meander through hills and mountains, tiny villages and few street lights. So again we arrived back at almost 9p.m.

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Up early the next day, as Anne the cottage owner and fellow workshop attendee kindly offered to take me, whilst my husband went walking with an old friend. Anne drove smoothly through beautiful countryside and as she chatted it was clear she is a very knowledgable plantswoman herself. We arrived early as Anne was helping Fiona with food and I wandered off into their garden for a short while.

First view in the morning

My first glimpse of their daily view

To the front of their Longhouse is a terrace, divided into two areas both overlooking the views to sell your house for.

Julian and Fiona's Welsh Longhouse

Julian and Fiona’s Welsh Longhouse

It was hard to know which way to go first as in every direction was something to draw me along. Julian and Fiona open for the National Gardens Scheme, if folk haven’t visited before its likely they get giddy with exhilaration . And then a second visit, third and fourth must be just as  giddying.

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A table to enjoy the Gelli Uchaf views from

I had not properly thought through how much Noel’s course would resonate with me before attending but boy what an eye opener. Noel’s course ‘Rabbits Eye View’ encouraged us to think more about plants in ecological terms, how the relationship with environments and ethical sustainability affected plant and plant design choices for the good. And in a fun, warm and refreshing way.

Rabbits eye View

Noel demonstrating the ‘Rabbits Eye View’

We got down to the nitty gritty of planting and looked at exactly how plants grow, challenging us to think through plant survival techniques and long term plant performances and especially to think ecologically as well as horticulturally. Noel took us through Julian and Fiona’ garden, which he clearly liked very much, he was warm, kind and encouraging and very charming. Noel is known for his naturalistic planting design and collaborations with other designers such as Piet Oudolf. Jason from Garden in a City reviewed his book Hummelo earlier this year.

Gelli Uchaf Woodland Garden. Photo Courtesy of Julian Wormald

Gelli Uchaf Woodland Garden. Photo Courtesy of Julian Wormald

As Noel guided us, gently interviewing Julian and Fiona at the same time he pointed out the details in every area of their garden, the smallest of details were joyous. I felt as if I should not be walking on the moss paths, my heavy footprints quite disturbing. We finally departed around 4.30p.m  –  7 hours had just whizzed by.

Moss paths through the woodland garden

Moss paths through the woodland garden with Saxifrage fortunei on left

If you have the chance to visit Julian and Fiona’s Garden, please take it as its so beautiful. I have only scratched the surface here, Julian’s The Garden Impressionists blog has far better photographs from every season to entice you and if Noel Kingsbury loves this garden then that recommendation is hard to beat.

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Photo courtesy of Julian Wormald Rabbits Eye View Workshop with Noel Kingsbury

On our last day in Wales before the journey east and back home we made the trip to New Quay on the Cardigan Bay, which is a Marine Conservation Zone. We stood on New Quay harbour with a Wildlife Trust volunteer, who was monitoring the Bottlenose Dolphins inhabiting these waters. He said as another rain squall came in behind us and I packed my camera away, this was unusually mild weather for the time of year. Within minutes a large Bottlenose fully leapt from the water tossing a fish in the air. The Wildlife Trust man, said we were incredibly lucky, that behaviour is rarely seen. Obviously I can’t show you that photo as I had just put my camera away, but we felt thoroughly blessed to have had such a wonderful trip to Wales. I shall leave you with one of Julian’s unbelievably beautiful early morning garden views instead.

Gelli Uchaf photo courtesy of Juilan Wormald

Gelli Uchaf photo courtesy of Julian Wormald