Friday, 31 May 2013

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods

Brandon Marsh - A summers day

 There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal

Lord Byron, (George Gordon) Childe Harold, Canto iv, Verse 178
Roadtrip to Gilfach Farm Nature Reserve

And we’d been spending a lot of time checking out 4 different woods. During the Spring Bank holidays, we made our first trip to Gilfach Nature Reserve in Radnorshire, Mid-Wales. We had made 2 trips to Gilfach, a week a part. Our first trip was on the Spring Bank holiday weekend and we joined the getaway trying to leave the Midlands. It was only 10C in the car and we sang our hearts out and bopped to the Driving Songs CD. We’d to because we were stuck in Newtown. So close and yet so far. Gilfach Farm

We followed the route on our GPS and went up mountains, down narrow valleys, hidden dips, secluded hamlets all with breathtaking views. Ooh, how we missed Wales. After 2.5 hours, we finally arrived at our destination.  Gilfach is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) and nestled within the stunning Cambrian Mountains. We drove onto a very narrow road, over the River Marteg, up the hill through old, gnarled oak woods filled with the sounds and activities of woodland birds.  I couldn’t wait to get out of the car. After using the facilities and a quick fresh-up, we joined the crowd at the courtyard.Gilfach Farm

We’d a big surprised when a few familiar faces turned around. Oops… it seemed that Brandon regulars were here too. We couldn’t talk much because the piece de resistance, a Redstart, had just flown onto the nearby stone wall which was laid out with mealworms. What a handsome bird.  The male Redstart was a dandy with blue-grey above, rich orange below with a striking white forehead and inky-black bib. And the ever-quivering red tail. He really stood out among the Tree sparrows, Robins, Finches and Tits that were also feeding at the same time.Gilfach Farm

“I love all beauteous things,

I seek and adore them.”

~Robert Bridges~

Gilfach Farm

They seemed oblivious to the numerous cameras rattling away. Then the Redstart flew into a nest box that was attached to the visitor centre, which was once an old barn. I bought a bottle of water and sat on the bench enjoying the views. Opposite the visitor centre was a 15th century longhouse, a traditional Welsh dwelling that had been restored with some of the surviving original features intact. Now a grade II listed building, the longhouse was occupied by private tenants. Imagine living in such a spectacular surroundings. They had a few bird-feeders in their garden and were being visited by several Siskins.

Gilfach Farm  The byre was the lower end of the longhouse where the animals used to live. It now provided wet weather cover and information all year round for visitors. Educational activities were also provided for school children. With over 400 acres, the nature reserve played a vital role in conserving Radnorshire’s natural heritage. The old Mid-Wales railway, built in the 1860’s and closed in 1962, once ran through the reserve. After rattling of hundreds of photographs of the Redstart, we made our way down the road.Gilfach FarmWe strolled past a group of photographers with their eyes and lens trained on a Gold/Firecrest, flitting around the fir trees. We gave them a miss and hunkered down with another group on a grassy slope. In the centre was a tree trunk smothered with mealworms!!!  A Great Tit was flying into a nearby nest-box with some of the mealworms. And then, another beauty flew in and obliged the photographers with some fantastic poses. All you could hear was the cameras whirling away. And then the female flew in and joined the feast.Gilfach Farm

Pied flycatchers males were black and white, with an upright, short-legged, long-winged shape that helped them dart from a perch to a fly in a snap. The female was brown and inconspicious. Redstarts and Flycatchers spent the winter in Africa. The males returned as early as they dare to carve out a breeding territory, defending it against all comers with their songs. The females arrived a few days later. Males that failed to mate sang for weeks. The reserve with its open woodland floor and a dense canopy full of foliage brimming with caterpillars were ideal for these birds to bring up their young.

Gilfach Farm

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

Gilfach Farm

After getting our fill, we walked down the very steep hill enjoying the spectacular views. Cuckoo calls were echoing around us and Green woodpecker cries accompanied us. We checked out the Otter Hide which overlooked the River Marteg, cascading over rocks. It was very cool and soothing. Between several gnarled oak trees, nest-boxes had been nailed. Guarding one of these, was a male Pied flycatcher. In between singing his heart out, he obliged us by posing on different lichen-covered branches. What a trouper.  Gilfach Farm

We checked out the bridge because a Dipper was supposed to be nesting underneath it. We scanned everywhere but it was no where to be seen. I was so looking forward to see it bobbing and curtseying on the rocks but not today. Although we didn’t see them, we were busy with the Nuthatches. They were everywhere and was curious to see us as we are to see them. Gilfach Farm

We decided to walk along the river hoping to see a Dipper and followed a nature trail through hedgerow-enclosed meadows. Anthill meadows dotted the landscape, ant snacks for the Green woodpeckers. The heather wasn’t yet in full colour which meant that the Damselflies and Butterflies weren’t settling.  Trails were way-marked and linked the various parts of the reserve to the visitor centre. We decided to check them out another time.  A pair of Grey Wagtails, skipped, hopped and wagged their way downstream.  Gilfach Farm

“Little trotty wagtail he went in the rain

And tittering, tottering sideways he neer got straight again,

He stooped to get a worm, and looked up to get a fly,

And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.”

~John Clare~

We checked out the bridge again and still no Dippers. We slowly tracked uphill towards the visitor centre. It seemed that most of the photographers had left. As usual, when it was quiet, my feathered birds came out to play in the courtyard. A Redpoll came out to join the party. It was so peaceful to be here that it was very hard for me to get into the car for the drive back to Coventry. And that was why we were back again after a week apart.Gilfach Farm

The 2nd. time we were here, it was 18C in the car. Gilfach was bathed in glorious sunshine.  Buzzards and Red Kites were riding the waves, high in the blue Welsh skies. We made a pit stop at the bridge to see if the Dipper was out and about. Still no show. We drove to the visitor centre and it was quite empty. The Redstart came down to the courtyard to say hello. The Pied Flycatcher was no where to be seen. It was so hot that we’d a locally produced Welsh ice-cream each watching the clouds moved across the hills. We spotted a Jay ransacking a Song Thrush nest. As we walked along the Wyve Valley path, we heard of the cries of Great Spotted woodpecker chicks. We sat on the bank and waited patiently. On cue, the parent came to feed its chicks. AAahhh…Gilfach Farm

We stopped again at the bridge before heading home. A Pied flycatcher was still singing his heart out among the old wood and moss galore. He must be thinking of his second brood. The Nuthatches were still clambering up and down the tree trunks. A pair of Pied wagtails were flying along the river with its excited high-pitched twittering trailing behind. And then Babe spotted the elusive Dipper. Woop…woop it was a juvenile sitting patiently on a stone, waiting to be fed.  I stood there mesmerised and really blessed to finally see this adorable bird.Gilfach Farm

“Peradventure he may have the good fortune to see the common dipper walking, literally walking, at the bottom of the waters in pursuit of its prey … precisely as if upon dry land.”

~George Pulman, Book of the Axe (1875)~

On this trip, we took a different route to the one we took earlier in the week. We took the A470 from Llangurig to Rhayader a bit longer but an easier drive. We also found out that it was about half an hour drive from one of our favourite haunts, Nant yr Arian. Before heading there, we made a pit stop at one of the scenic points. From here, we could see the River Marteg flowing into the River Wye. We also saw the disused railway tunnel which was inhabited by 6 species of bats. And the views was just spectacular. Gilfach Farm

Reluctantly, we made our way to Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Centre. And it was packed because it was the half term holidays. After paying for parking and using the facilities to freshen up, we found out that we were an hour too early. It was quite confusing to remember the feeding times. It was at 3 pm in summer and 2 pm in winter. But we’ve plenty of things to keep us occupied. We’d our lunch in the car and watched the Red Kites gathering in the sky. Then we checked out the feeding station outside the visitor centre. It was buzzing with Siskins, Redpolls and Chaffinches. Nant yr Arian - Kite watching

I popped into the RSPB hide to checkout a web-link of a Kite sitting on eggs. I asked the warden where the nest was and he told me that it was somewhere up the Plynlimon. Then we joined the hundreds who were making their way slowly towards the lake. Some of the best places were already taken but we still managed to squeeze along the Barcud Trail. While everyone else was checking the skies, I was busy checking out the lake. Lots of tadpoles were about, enjoying the warm weather. A Goosander was cruising around the lake. A Reed Warbler popped its head up and I think it has a nest nearby.Nant yr Arian - Kite watching

As everyone took their seats, the tension began as these majestic birds started arriving, circling high overhead with that characteristic deeply forked tail. Both birds and spectators wait (im)patiently for the show to begin. Some birds alighted in nearby pine trees, while others glided high above the hills. Crows and magpies were also waiting for the food to arrive. Once the meat had been thrown out, the crows were quick to snatch a piece but immediately the Kites came hurtling down, rarely if ever landing. They plucked the food in their talons from the ground and sometimes from each other’s claw.Nant yr Arian - Kite watching

We oohed and aahed as they twisted and turned, dived and climbed, and there were so many of them it became a maelstrom of spectacular aerobatics. The “high-pitched mewing” of the birds were accompanied by the sound of the huge beating wings.  With its massive 1.8 metre wingspan, they effortlessly soared and glided through the air. Seen close, their plumage was a glorious combination of deep, glossy, chestnut-red, with dramatic white patches under the wings, accessorised with glaring bright yellow eyes and talons. Nant yr Arian - Kite watching

In the midst of the feeding frenzy, we spotted a Kite feeding furiously on the ground. We looked closely and noticed that it was without a tail. Just how this Red Kite managed to learn to fly without its rudder was a mystery. We think that was why it was the only one feeding on the ground because it couldn’t keep its food while in the air. Kites feed on the wings with the meat clutched in their talons, and they make for clear airspace where they felt secure enough to feed. With its 1.8 metre wings spread out for stability the head turns down to meet with its forward lifted legs. Now they can feed, but must still keep an eye out for other marauding kites and this poor thing won’t be able to tuck it up out of sight beneath the tail. But somehow, this tailless Kite still managed to feed and soar.Nant yr Arian - Kite watching

“No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings”

~William Blake~

Nant yr Arian - Kite watching

Our next woods in the list was our favourite playground. BMNR. As we walked through the visitor centre, I spotted the swallows flying in and out of the courtyard. I spotted one flying in and disappeared under the eaves. I quietly followed it and spotted a pair happily chattering and resting under the eave in the corner. Ooh… they were so chilled out and didn’t even blinked when I rattled off a few shots. Amazing … fingers-crossed that they might be thinking of nesting there. I couldn’t wait.Brandon Marsh - Nice day

We continued towards Baldwin Hide. The reed beds were alive with twitterings. Whitethroats and Long-tailed tits were skulking in the undergrowth. We opened the shutter towards the island very, very slowly and there they were. Three very adorable, fluffy Oystercatchers chicks. They’d hatched about a week ago. One was sunbathing in the middle, well-hidden among the nettles. The other 2 were with their parents, busy learning on how to search for food. We took hundreds of photographs and prayed that they survived to be adults.Brandon Marsh - Persistent rain.

Then we strutted off towards East Marsh Hide. We heard  the Cuckoo calling and as it got closer and closer, we saw it dropped on a tree. But it was just too far away to photographed and was hidden among the leaves. We met Andy and Kay and had a little bit of a natter before getting back to what we enjoyed. Whitethroats, Reed buntings and numerous warblers were flitting in and out of the reed beds. Redshanks and Little Ringed Plovers flew onto the island below us before being chased away by the nesting Oystercatchers and Lapwings.   Brandon Marsh - A summers day

It was very quiet at Carlton Hide except for a family of Coots feeding in the mudbanks. We left them and made our way towards the screen to see if the Hobbies were out and about. We met John and Janet and had a lovely long natter. They’d just returned from a birding holiday in Norfolk and were telling us of what they’d seen on their trips. The conversations abruptly stopped with the appearance of a Hobby. All you could hear were the rattling and whirring of 4 cameras as the Hobby flew rapidly after its prey demonstrating some serious high-speed aerial manoeuvres. We’d to laugh at the number of times our cameras banged onto the structure trying to follow its movement.Brandon Marsh - Nice day

While we were busy with the Hobby, we were entertained by a Chiffchaff singing ‘chiff-chaff-chiff-chiff-chaff…’ its heart out on the tree top. Another bird thinking of a second brood. As we were about to leave the reserve, a Great Crested Grebe honked us goodnight near the wind-pump pool.Brandon Marsh - Nice day

“The uncrested wren, called in this place chif-chaf is very loud … It does only two piercing notes.”

~Gilbert White~

On the weekend, we checked out Bradgate Park and we weren’t alone. Thousands were there taking advantage of the lovely, sunny weather. Thankfully, we managed to find a parking space in the overflow car-park. As we walked, we noticed that every space beside the River Lin which ran through the park, was occupied by families having picnics, pond dipping or just splashing about. In the grounds, more were playing frisbees, cricket, flying kites, roller-blading, cycling, riding scooters, dog walking or like us, just walking, enjoying the atmosphere. Bradgate Park - Lovely summers day

We were quite surprised to see the natives out and about, mingling with the crowd. They were quite wary with the dogs and vice-versa. It was quite scary to see parents asking their young children to stand close to the deer for a photograph. They looked adorable and tame but once spooked, they were dangerous. We also saw a few feeding them. God… didn’t they read the notices about not feeding the deer??? When will people learn? If they get hurt, I’m sure they’ll start demanding compensations. Babe approached a warden and told him what he’d seen. The warden wasn’t pleased and drove to remind them of the dangers.Bradgate Park - Lovely summers day

We saw that Lady Jane’s Grey house was opened and quickly made our way there. We heard the Green woodpecker cries but they were nowhere to be seen. All the deer were huddled at the end of the compound. More visitors were out and about in the grounds harassing the natives. One was so harassed that we found him up the tree. You can hide from the others Mr. Peacock, but you can’t hide from me. After posing for a few shots, we left him alone.Bradgate Park - Lovely summers day

I was hoping to see the Little Owls. We scanned the walls but they were not in a mood to play today. Pied wagtails skimmed through the park with their rapid twittering trailing behind them. We checked out the pond and damselflies were out and about in full force. An Egyptian goose was swimming peacefully in the middle of the pond. Last year, we spotted a family but they were nowhere to be seen.Bradgate Park - Lovely summers day

It was getting warmer and the sun was right above our head. More people were pouring into the park and it was time to head home. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk through the woods and we hoped you did too.

Bradgate Park - Lovely summers day

“One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the spring come in.”

~Henry David Thoreau~

Bradgate Park - Lovely summers day

Monday, 20 May 2013

Merry, Merry Month of May

O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!
O, and then did I unto my true love say,
Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my Summer's Queen.

Thomas Dekker (c. 1572–1632)

We’d weird weather conditions as we headed towards the end of May. It couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to do. Sometimes we were basking in temperatures of up to 22C with brilliant sunshine and blue skies one minute, and black clouds  with torrential rainfall the next.  We were battered by 40mph gales, with the mercury plunging below the May average of 15C. This unsettled weather was due to the jet stream being further south than normal, allowing low pressure system to track across UK rather than further south.

Have you walked in the woods lately? Do you know that May is Walk in the Woods month? You can always find me in the woods during my lunch break or at the weekends. It was my ‘me’ time, a time to rewind, refresh and recharge. Just walking through the woods, listening to the sounds of nature and away from the hustle and bustle of life helped restore my sense of calm and wellbeing. All across the country at this time of year, trees were covered with pale green shoots and provided the perfect canopy as beneath them were carpets of lesser celandines, wood anemones, ramsons and for the quintessential sign of British springtime, bluebells.Shots from Warwick University

And what a memorable sight it was to see the sun filtering through the trees and below it, a sea of bluebells. Pollinated by bumblebees that drown in a heady fragrance of nodding bells, spreading a mist of cobalt blue that hovered above a bed of bright lettuce green as far as the eye can see, bluebell woods was one of Britain’s most iconic countryside images. It was no wonder that it topped a poll on its VisitWoods website as the country’s favourite spring flower. I was so blessed to have access to an ancient bluebell wood at Tocil Woods.Shots from Warwick University

“I met her in the greenest dells

Where dew drops pearl the wood bluebells

The lost breeze kissed her bright blue eye

The bee kissed and went singing by

~John Clare (1793-1864)~

Shots from Warwick University

We checked out our favourite playground when we drove past cars parked along the roads. Then only we realised that it was the Open Day at BMNR. It was well-attended as the car-parks was already full by the time we arrived. Thankfully, someone was just leaving and we managed to secure a parking space. It was buzzing. There were talks, pond-dippings, stalls selling wild flowers, local honey and beer. The Trust was also collecting donations for Save the Hedgehog fund. I told them that they should have brought a few hoggies along when I came across this gorgeous human-size hedgehog. She made my day.Brandon Marsh - Cloudy day again

We left the hustle-bustle and headed straight to the hides. More visitors were wandering around the reserve. The natives were very quiet too, skulking in the undergrowth. We heard the Cuckoo calls echoing around us. We checked out Baldwin Hide. The Oystercatcher was still sitting on eggs and her partner was lingering nearby. The black and white plumage was pleasantly relieved by its orange-red bill, crimson irides and rosy-pink legs and toes. I held my breath when I spotted her getting up and slowly turning her eggs. Ooh, I couldn’t wait for them to hatch.Brandon Marsh - Cloudy day again

Then we checked out East Marsh hide. Hawthorn blossoms normally seen in late April were just blooming now, along the path. Peacocks and Orange Tips were flying up and down, too flighty for photographs. From the hide, we spotted Lapwings and another Oyster-Catcher sitting on eggs. A Sedge Warbler was busy foraging for larvae among the reed beds. Whitethroats were plentiful, also busy foraging for food.Brandon Marsh - Cloudy day again

We made a pit stop at Carlton. It was very quiet except for a family of Coots with their very ugly but adorable cootlings. We quickly made our way to the screen where 3 Hobbies had been sighted earlier in the week. With the temperatures increasing, they were hunting more frequently. Since it was too early for dragon flies, they were hunting mayflies. They provided impressive aerobatic displays spending much of their time in high soaring flight  before plummeting earthward with closed wings at a great speed. We observed their exceptionally fast pursuit flights which involved dashing over treetops, diving earthward, sailing skyward to hang in the wind and then careering high in the heavens. Brandon Marsh - Heavy cloud

A hobby in high aerobatic pursuit of flying prey demonstrates a wonderful mastery of the air. Victims were almost invariably taken on the wing. Babe took this spectacular short as the bird lowered their undercarriage and grab the insect before taking off like an F15 jet. It ate the mayfly in mid-air and we could see even the fly’s wings floating down to earth. Simply amazing.Brandon Marsh - Cloudy day again

Their shadow dims the sunshine of our day,
As they go lumbering across the sky,
Squawking in joy of feeling safe on high,
Beating their heavy wings of owlish gray.
They scare the singing birds of earth away
As, greed-impelled, they circle threateningly,
Watching the toilers with malignant eye,
From their exclusive haven--birds of prey.
They swoop down for the spoil in certain might,
And fasten in our bleeding flesh their claws.
They beat us to surrender weak with fright,
And tugging and tearing without let or pause,
They flap their hideous wings in grim delight,
And stuff our gory hearts into their maws.

~Birds of Prey by Claude McKay~

Brandon Marsh - Heavy cloud

This week the Hitless Squad Rounders team had another match. This time we were against the Trampolinis, from the Trampoline Society. Without even batting a ball, we were already beaten when we saw our opponents, fit, young students. We were also at a disadvantage because there was only 6 of us and 9 of them. They let us play 3 extra chances. But we didn’t barter hard enough because when it came to fielding, they’d 3 extra bodies. Babe said we should have asked them to rest the 3 so that it would be balanced. But, hey ho, it was still a good game and we’d fun. We still lost 7:16!!!Warwick University Rounders League

Then it was time to sample some street food. The Piazza was buzzing with stalls from local retailers. CC and I checked it out during our lunch break and the queue was snaking from one end to another. We’d a wonderful time trying to find out which queue belongs to which stall and where was the start or the end. It was hilarious. The exotic burger stalls selling ostrich, kangaroo and wild boar was a hit. We checked out every stall before deciding what to purchase. I bought a very posh wild deer pie (sorry Bambi :-0) and samosas for dinner. One delicious samosa was quickly demolished. Shots from Warwick University

I also took a group of mature students from the Shenzhen University for a tour of the library. They were only here for 4 months. As usual, the mobile shelving, self-service issues and returns were a hit. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take them to floor 3-5 because they were quiet and silent study floors. It was examination time and I don’t want to disturb the students. A lot of video recordings and cameras flashed. Ooh…told them that I don’t want to be on You Tube. A lovely group and I hoped they’d a wonderful time in the University.

DC was in town and my colleagues and I joined her for a drink at Dirty Duck. It was lovely seeing her and Rich again. I’d not seen DC for nearly 2 years since she left for newer pastures in the Netherlands. She was as bubbly as ever and we exchanged news, gossips and laughters. We’d to shout to make ourselves heard. It was so noisy plus with the juke box was blaring away. The funniest thing was that we kept on joining tables as more and more colleagues turned up. DC had to walk from one end to another to talk to them. By the time CC and I left, DC was sloshed because everyone kept on buying her drinks. It was so cute.

“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”

~Khalil Gibran~

May will be remembered as the month where my cooking skills were tested. We came home from work to find out that the freezer had a melt-down. The switch was accidently switched off and the first 3 trays had defrosted. Oh no!! We ate as much ice-cream as we could and threw away the rest. Fish was on the menu for the foxes. I roasted all the sausages and chicken nuggets. I made 4 portions of cottage pies, 2 portions of chicken curries and stews, meatball sauces for pasta and sausage casseroles. Packets of roasted vegetables were made into ratatouilles. All were packed in containers, labelled and back into the freezer again. I spent 3 days batch cooking and for nearly a week we ate burgers, pizzas, onion rings and chips. Never again… But, at least, when I’m too tired to cook, there was always something already cooked in the freezer.Shots from our home and garden

“It was the month of May, the month when the foliage of herbs and trees is most freshly green, when buds ripened and blossoms appear in their fragrance and loveliness.

Shots from Warwick University

And the month when lovers, subject to the same force which reawakens the plants, feel their hearts open again, recall past trysts and past vows, and moments of tenderness, and yearn for a renewal pf the magical awareness which is love.”

~Sir Thomas Malory, La Morte d’Arthur~

Shots from Warwick University

Sunday, 12 May 2013

April Showers bring May Flowers

In 1557, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Tusser compiled a collection of writings he called Five Hundred Good Points of Husbandary. In the April Husbandary section he wrote

Sweet April showers

Do bring May flowers

There was meaning behind the words. Many of life’s greatest things came to those who wait, by patiently enduring the clouds and damp of April and welcoming the sights and abundance of May. May heralded the beginning of the warmer months and led into summer, when the highest concentration of plants could be found blooming. It was an example of the spring  cycle of renewable that the Earth go through.Shots from Warwick University

Sweet May hath come to love us,

Flowers, trees, their blossoms don;

And through the blue heavens above us

The very clouds move on

~Heinrich Heine~

These are the views outside my window at the moment. Isn’t it gorgeous? I absolutely adore cherry blossoms. And with the abundance sunshine we recently had, they had produced an explosion of pure delicate pink blossoms . Cherries were distinguished from other trees by having clusters of buds at the ends of the twigs (only oak also had this feature) and usually a smooth bark with regularly placed rougher lines running part or all the way round the trunk. The trees have been grown in England for around 500 years, since they were introduced to Kent during the reign of King Henry VIII. Shots from Warwick University

To the Japanese, the cherry blossoms symbolised clouds, and the ephemeral nature of life, as well as love, affection, friendship and Japan itself. For over a thousand years, they practised a custom called Hanami, which involved having a picnic under a blossoming sakura tree. A cherry blossom was the flower of the cherry trees known as sakura. How romantic and tranquil was that, having a picnic under the gentle pink hues of the petals. A gentle breeze and the petals showering over you. I think that would be added to my list in the future. Shots from Warwick University

In our garden, this Lilac bush  was bursting into blooms and it smelt heavenly. Bees were buzzing and humming around it. We made a mistake of erecting the shed in front of  it because we weren’t aware of what it was. But somehow it still manage to tower over the structure and blooming happily. A pity they only lasted a few weeks but those few weeks certainly justified their presence.Shots from our Home and Garden

“Plant a lilac, and you plant a memory. Lilacs are the flower of of reminiscence, perhaps because of their fragrance, so linked for us with winter gone and summer coming perhaps because their brief season of fabulous bloom or perhaps because our grandparents grew them.”

~Jennifer Bennett, Lilacs for the Garden~

On Saturday, we braved the elements and checked out Slimbridge WWT. It was 16C in the car. Rapeseed fields were beginning to bloom lined both sides of the M6. There was a slight congestion when a broken-down caravan in the middle lane slowed down traffic. The skies were getting darker and heavier as we got closer to our destination. We arrived to a sudden cloud burst and wasn’t surprised to find the car-park virtually empty. Bluebells haven’t flowered yet but everywhere we looked were clumps of Cowslips.Slimbridge - Mostly raining

We saw Cowslips dotted along the roadside verges as we drove past. There was a legend that St. Peter dropped the keys of heaven and where they fell Cowslips grew. The name derived from the term ‘cowslups’ basically meant cowpat!!! This unflattering name reflected their past associated with meadows grazed by cattle.  The ‘freckled cowslip’ appeared in Shakespeare’s Henry V as a sign of fertile and well-managed pasture which unfortunately isn’t true today. Cowslips declined dramatically due to the intensification of agriculture and the ploughing of old grasslands.Slimbridge - Mostly raining

As soon as we entered the reserve, we were greeted by the yodelling of the Bewick Swans. These must be the residents because the others had already arrived at their Siberian breeding grounds. We also checked out under the eaves to see if the House martins had nested but nobody was home. Everything seemed to be behind but not for these Nenes. They were out and about with their gangly off-springs. Another successful breeding programme accomplished because we spotted at least 5 families.Slimbridge - Mostly raining

The heavens opened again and we took shelter in the Wader Shore and we weren’t alone. While others waited for the rain to stop, we busied ourselves with the gorgeous inhabitants. The Redshank were playing tag with their melodious flight call echoing around us. The elegant black and white Avocet were having a shut-eye among the chaotic surroundings. Ruffs were showing in a variety of colours while the Black Stilt was content to watch the world go by.Slimbridge - Mostly raining

In between showers, we rushed to the South Hide, trying to avoid the pestering Nenes and more clumps of Cowslips. More visitors were sheltering from the rain. We spotted Oyster-catchers, Great Crested Grebes, Common Gulls, Hirundines and Shelducks.  We made a pit stop at the Flamingo Lagoon to see if they were sitting on eggs. Their mud nests were still empty. We missed the Otters feeding session again but they were more than happy to entertain us by swimming very close to the screen.Slimbridge - Mostly raining

We made a quick dash to Rushy Hide trying not to get drenched. More Shelducks were out and about, being territorial and vocal. A large flock of Black headed gulls was reported to be roosting here but we didn’t see that many. We continued on to the next hide with a pit stop at the bridge to see if the water vole was out and about. We didn’t see him but the water was too muddy anyway.   Slimbridge - Mostly raining

We’d Martin Hide to ourselves. Where was everybody??? We made ourselves at home and started photographing the Hirundines. Unfortunately, they didn’t rest on the post near the hide. We saw a sign to be quiet because a pair of Cranes was nesting nearby. We scanned the reed-beds but we couldn’t see anything. For such a big bird, it would be impossible for us to miss.Slimbridge - Mostly raining

We went to the opposite hide which was nearly flooded because it doesn’t have any shutters. Luckily, there were plenty of birds flocking around and below the feeders. We spotted Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Robins, Blackbirds, Long-tailed tits, Dunnocks, Blue and Great Tits. But our highlight was when Babe spotted this Song Thrush pulling worms from the sodden ground. Babe think that she must have a nest near-by.Slimbridge - Mostly raining

Then we walked back to the Safari Park to see if the Mandarin ducks were out and about. They were nowhere to be seen. The sun came out and we sat down on the benches watching a family paddling along the river. As we were having something to eat, we spotted a flock of Cranes circling the reserve. We quickly finished our meal and made our way to the Back from the Brink corner. We knew they were going to land. Unfortunately, the gate was locked but we still managed to see a pair performing a display. We stood there mesmerised by their distinctive mating ritual in which they leapt up with raised wings, their tail plumes fluffed and erect and trumpeting loudly. What a lovely finale to a wet day. Slimbridge - Mostly raining

On Sunday, I got my cooking mojo back. I was up early and while the laundry was being washed, I was busy cooking. I made 2 portions of cottage pies, baked 2 dozen banana muffins and rolled a dozen sushi. Woo..hoo. Then I vacuumed the casa after hanging the laundry out in the glorious sunshine. What a change from yesterday. It was lovely to be out in the sun that I mowed the back lawn and added the clippings to the Dalek. A Common Blue, Speckled Wood, Brimstone and Peacock was flirting around the garden, keeping me company.Shots from our Home and Garden

“I am grateful for the lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and floors that need waxing because it means I have a home.”


After demolishing the Sushi (they were fab), we made our way to our favourite playground. We walked straight to Baldwin Hide. It was nice and quiet as the morning crowd had already left. The Canada Goose was still sitting on her nest right below the shutters while her mate was patrolling around her. The Common Terns were very vocal on the pontoons and the pair of Great Crested Grebe were checking the nearby island. I hoped they weren’t thinking of nesting there again. Little Ring Plovers were feeding along the mudbanks on the main island. A pair of Dunlins flew in but they were too far away to be photographed.Brandon Marsh - Rain again

The highlight of the day was the pair of Oyster-catchers nesting on the island beside the hide. A Greylag, too, was nesting at the corner of the island and they seemed to tolerate each other. We will be coming here weekly to monitor them. I couldn’t wait to see the Oyster-catcherlings :-). Brandon Marsh - Cloudy day again

They say in the Highlands and the Western Isles –
This tale was made by men who knew
What being harried and pursued could mean – that Jesus,
Fleeing the malice of his enemies,
Went down to the wild shore, to find a cave to hide in.
But the sea-pies, flying
About the limpet-covered reef, with clear bright calls,
Took pity on him there, and in their scarlet beaks
Brought kelp and tangle to cover him completely.
The ruthless foe went by. And for that season
His cup of suffering passed.
Therefore the oystercatcher
Is of good fortune and well seen of men,
Running at the tide’s edge
Upon the cockle and the mussel banks.

John Heath-Stubbs (1918-2006)

Brandon Marsh - Cloudy day again

This poem celebrated a Scotch folktale, of how an oystercatcher helped Jesus: . There was nothing in the Bible about Jesus making a trip to Scotland, let alone being hid under a pile of seaweed by oystercatchers! It  was also said that after the pursuers had gone Jesus emerged from the seaweed and gave the birds a white cross to wear for their services. In Gaelic, the oystercatcher was known as gille-bride, the page or servant of St Bride, a patron saint of birds.

I had another appointment with Walsgrave Hospital. Planning was crucial to make sure I arrived on time to avoid the exorbitant parking charges. We left the casa half an hour early as we lived 10 minutes away. But at the entrance, we were caught in a massive traffic jam. I was tempted to walk in but Babe told me not to. We then queued to find a parking space and with minutes to spare, I rushed in leaving Babe to catch-up. After registering, we waited and waited for the consultant to turn up.

After about 20 minutes of consultation, I was asked to provide blood samples and make another appointment with the Gastroenterology department. I took the ticket for the blood test and there was 20 people before me. We decided to make the appointment first and fingers-crossed, still arrived in time for my blood test. It was a very long walk to the department. Again, we’d to wait for at least 20 mins before I could get a date. Then rushed back to the haematology department and I was still in the queue. Phew!!!

After having a few mm of blood extracted, we made our way home. Again we were trapped in a queue to get out of the car-park. The traffic warden stopped traffic because an air ambulance was about to take off and it was just a hundred metres away from us. What a pity we didn’t have our cameras with us. We saw a lot of people taking photographs with their I-pads and telephones.

We’d our first rounders match. Gulp !!! We only had 2 training sessions if you can call it training and then we were entered into a league. We called ourselves Hitless Squad which was hilarious. The six of us made our way to Croftfield to meet our opponents, the Sons of Lupins, a team of young, agile, competitive students. What have we got ourselves into. And to make matter worse, it poured buckets that day. We batted, ran, fielded, drenched and still lost 1.5 :13. It wasn’t that bad because in the points table, it still put us ahead of teams that were no shows. I didn’t even manage to score half-rounders :-). The game was called off after one innings due to the atrocious conditions

This week too we faced unseasonably 60 mph strong winds and driving rain. They were caused by an ‘unusually’ deep area of low pressure, which was moving west from Northern Ireland. Yellow warnings had been issued by the Met Office  to slow down on the roads due to the cross winds that brought down branches and trees . The Highways Agency had issued an amber alert for high-sided vehicles, caravans and motorbikes too. There were dramatic scenes of strong gusts and crashing waves around the coastal areas. It was freezing in the wind and rain, with maximum temperatures around 13C. What a contrast to the glorious sunshine earlier in the week, with the hottest day on Tuesday.Slimbridge - Mostly raining

And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.

~G. K. Chesterton~

It was Mother’s Day in Malaysia.  I called my Emak to wish her a wonderful day and I hoped you did too. Happy Mother’s Day to all the lucky Mothers out there. I wished you a very warm and thoughtful day full of the love and appreciation from your children. I’m eternally thankful for my Emak and everytime time I called her I always let her know of my appreciation.Shots from our Home and Garden

You don’t need a special day once a year to let your loved ones know how much you cared about them. While you don’t need to let them know every day, just remembering to let them know from time to time was all that was needed. People just need to know and hear that they were loved and appreciated (even if they were “supposed” to know it).

A Mom’s hug lasts long after she lets go


Shots from our Home and Garden