It was the month of May, the month when the foliage of herbs and trees is most likely green, when buds ripened and blossoms appear in their fragrance and loveliness.
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 of the magical awareness which is love”
~Sir Thomas Malory, La Morte d’Arthur~
After a long Easter break, I was rather looking forward to getting back to work especially when there was another bank holiday at the end of it :-). But it was still never easy getting out of bed when the alarm went off and then waiting for the bus in the cold. Monday had been the longest day as my body and brain was still anchored on holiday mood. I took things very easy at work starting with clearing and correcting the monotonous 050 fields. I also had my earphones on listening to the commentaries from the World snooker championship. Then it was my turn for the annual review which went smoothly. After years of going through the process, I was well prepared. The working week ended with a retirement party for FO before we went off again for the early May bank holidays.
We started ours with the first trip to Bempton Cliffs for this year. It was 11C when we left the casa. There was a lot of traffic on the road because of the bank holiday weekend.Traffic slowed down to 50mph on the M1 due to road-works. We drove through miles and miles of great fields of stinging yellow fields that assaulted the eyes. After a short stop at Woodhall services, we arrived in a very busy reserve at about 12.40pm. The roof of the visitor centre was dotted with Tree sparrows which were nesting among the tiles. Some were seen flying in with nesting materials. The bird-feeder was busy with the birds taking turns to feed. Some were having a dust bath and once finished flying back to the roof top to preen. As usual, we took the route towards the right with Skylarks singing around us. Groups of people were dotted in groups along the coastal path and viewpoints.The distinctively sounds and smells of a large bird colony assaulted our senses. We waded through swathes of Bright Red campion along the cliff top path. We stopped and was chuffed to bits to see our first puffin across a cleft in the cliff face. Every visitors wanted to see the clown-like face puffins with sad eyes and white striped bill, smartly black and white suited with bright legs and feet . But they were so tiny and it took an expert eye to spot them.
We continued walking towards New Roll-up stopping at every vantage point because there was so much to see as thousands of birds were criss-crossing and wheeling above us in the crisp blue skis. It was a miracle that they never seemed to crash into each other. Our senses were further heightened by the sound of the waves crashing against cliffs just below us. We also noticed these drinker moth caterpillars, feeding on the foliage.
One of our favourite place was the ridge between the New Roll-up and Staple Newk. Here, we were eye-to-eye with the large and graceful clack and white Gannets as they floated on the air currents and then landed ungraciously among the rest already on the ground. They seemed to favour this spot. We watched fascinated as these amazing birds flew head height, soaring, hovering and collecting nesting material. Check out the ink tipped wings, the piercing blue eyes and bills exaggerated with eyeliner.
At Staple Newk, we’d to find a space to squeeze in. Below us was the rock arch where it was literally covered with hundreds of nesting gannets. Every available ledge was booked for the season. We watched the interactions between them. There were sky-pointing, neck twisting and chest-expanding. all taking place while making a racket. A few were asleep with their heads tucked under their wings.
We headed back to the car to have a drink and some food before continuing to the other side of the reserve. More visitors were pouring in. As we were walking towards the Grandstand, we were serenaded by ecstatic Skylarks soaring higher and higher into the sky. The delightful Pied wagtails were frantically wagging its tail up and down in front of us. But the highlight was our first sighting of a corn bunting having a rest on a strand of stock fence wire. This bulky little bird was a sad reminder of how this once common British farmland bird had declined.
From here, the cliffs were amazing with guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes perched magically on the tiniest of ledges, nooks and crannies. The soft eyed kittiwakes with wings that looked like they’d been dipped in ink calmly looked on from crafted raised woven nests hefted to the crumbling chalk face. We listened to their calls and it was no secret how they got their name. Guillemots and razorbills came to land to rest and mate, after spending most of their life at sea. The guillemots were dark brown and white, not as black as the similar razorbills. They have a less common ‘bridled’ form with a white ring around the eye and stripe behind it. A pair of Fulmar were feeling a bit amorous among the noisy shindig. And along the rocky output, a Puffin popped out to see what was going on.
Sauntering hither on listless wings,
Careless vagabond of the sea,
Little thou heedest the surf that sings,
The bar that thunders, the shale that rings,–
Give me to keep thy company.
Little thou hast, old friend, that ‘s new;
Storms and wrecks are old things to thee;
Sick am I of these changes, too;
Little to care for, little to rue,–
I on the shore, and thou on the sea.
All of thy wanderings, far and near,
Bring thee at last to shore and me;
All of my journeyings end them here:
This our tether must be our cheer,–
I on the shore, and thou on the sea.
Lazily rocking on ocean’s breast,
Something in common, old friend, have we:
Thou on the shingle seek’st thy nest,
I to the waters look for rest,–
I on the shore, and thou on the sea.
~To a seabird by Francis Bret Harte (1836-1902)~
As we continued towards Bartlett Nab, an exhausted willow warbler suddenly crashed in front of us. A summer visitor, it must have just flown across the North Sea from Africa. W. Hudson described the songs from these warblers as ‘long and passionate … the woodland sound that is like no other’. Unfortunately it was too exhausted to sing for us and sat long enough for us to take a few photographs before disappearing into the deep undergrowth. We hoped that it would have a good rest before continuing its journey. It was also our turn to leave. Before we left, we made a pit stop at the very quiet bird feeding station. The sun was still shining as we drove back home.
After yesterday’s adventure, we went for a leisure stroll among the bluebells at Tocil Woods. We’d never seen such a spectacular display as this. The bluebells were blooming their socks off. Even Babe was impressed by the sea of blue stretching as far as the eye could see. What a sight as the sun streamed through the canopy of leaves. And the delicate fragrance when they were en masse enveloped us as we walked along the path made us want to sing with joy. It felt like we were walking through a deep blue carpet of enchantment.
Come walk with me through bluebell woods,
and see the proof of God’s sweet love.
Long rays of sunlight trickling down,
among the trees in search of ground.
A piece of heaven here below,
creation at its best on show.
With perfume drifting on the breeze,
to guide us through this deep blue sea.
Bright sapphires dance in flickering light,
while silent butterflies take flight.
And echoes of a distant thrush,
we know that He is here with us.
Bank holiday Monday was glorious with wall to wall sunshine. We made another trip to one of our favourite place in the world, Aberystwyth. It was 15C in the car.We took the B4386 through Montgomeryshire to avoid the traffic and had to be content with bikers giving their powerful machine a run through the winding roads. Pockets of rapeseed fields dotted the hillsides. We stooped by a field full of sheep with young inquisitive lambs with stunning news over Newtown.
Our first stop was Gilfach Nature reserve. As usual, we parked opposite Otter Hide and checked out the rocky outcrops dotting River Marteg. And there it was. Our first sighting of a dipper perched on the exposed boulders of the fast flowing torrents. Whoop…whoop. All you could hear were our cameras rattling away. We knew that they were breeding under the bridge and was hoping to see them feeding the young chicks but not today.
Once I saw
in a quick-falling, white-veined stream,
among the leafed islands of the wet rocks,
a small bird, and knew it from the pages of a book; it was
and dipping he was,
as well as, sometimes, on a rock-peak, starting up
the dear, strong pipe of his voice; at this,there being no words to transcribe,
cadence, sweetness, and briskness
of his affirmative report.
~The Dipper by Mary Oliver~
But that wasn’t all. A female pied flycatcher flew on to the moss covered trees to check us out. Ooh… our summer visitor from West Africa had returned. Then the male with its mostly black on the upperparts and white underneath, with a bold white patch on the folded wing made an appearance. The males were a bit of lothario. They arrived back from their wintering quarters a couple of weeks earlier than the females, to establish a territory with its simple warbling song. After he’d created a territory and attracted a mate to start a family, he’ll be off to a neighbouring territory to do it all over again. But then he leaves the second family to go back to the first. Naughty…naughty.
It was hard to leave these amazing birds but we knew that we could see more at the courtyard. Unsurprisingly, the car-park was quite full but we managed to find a space. After using the facilities, we made our way to the courtyard and was greeted by a very obliging Nuthatch. The warden had spread mealworms along the wood stump and he was helping himself to the huge ones. We were amazed to see him trying to swallow one whole. Lots of signs requesting not to feed the birds and not to use tripods were prominently displayed.
The Nuthatch wasn’t the only one enjoying the meal. Blue and Great Tits, Robins, Chaffinches and Marsh tits were also taking turns. But then, a splash of bright orange-red caught our attention. It was the Redstart male looking smart with slate grey upper parts, black face and wings, and an orange rump and chest with the ever-quivering red tail, Then its browner female joined in for a meal. With fewer than 100 breeding pairs in the UK, these birds were on the amber list of Birds of Conservation concern. It was a privilege to have seen this pair at the same time. But they were quite skirmish and soon disappeared into the woods.
Then I plonked myself by the feeder where dozens of Lesser Redpolls, Siskins, Goldfinches and Greenfinches were taking turns to feed. Great spotted woodpeckers could be heard drumming from deep in the forest. Swallows were taking a breather along the electric lines before flying in and out of the farmhouse. I think they were nesting in there. Buzzards could be heard with their almost cat-like mewing while they were riding the waves above the reserve. I could have stayed longer but we have to be at Nant yr Arian by 2 pm for the Red kites.
We arrived just in time to see the birds swooping in to feed. But not many came down because again, the numerous barking and growling dogs spooked them. How I wish there were signs that dogs shouldn’t be allowed near the feeding area. The birds began flying after those who were trying to feed on the wings. We found it hilarious that a Goosander got out of the lake and joined the party on the ground among the crows and mallards.
‘Look my son! Look
There’s a kite flying high
Where daddy, where?
Let me see!
But it has no string,
No tail of red ribbons
It has no one controlling the flight
Ah, no my son, it needs no string
No tail of red ribbons
No hands controlling its flight
For it’s a kite of the air
A kite that is free”
Then we headed straight to Borth to check out the petrified forest again. Unfortunately, the tides had came in and they were covered by sand and seawater. We walked along the beach where I spotted a flock of waders flying in and began feeding along the mudbanks. I slowly crept in and came so close to a flock of Little Ringed Plovers and Dunlins.
A Bird came down the Walk –
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,
And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought –
He stirred his Velvet Head
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home –
~A bird came down by Emily Dickinson~
The second half of the working week was spent at meetings, meetings and more meetings !!!!First was the departmental meeting. Our manager updated us on the Study Happy campaign, ENCORE Duet and Warwick Digital Collection Group. We were also informed that a temporary router was installed which meant that we finally have wi-fi in the ground floor. From the Unique Collection Group, we whizzed through the various collections which we think needed to be synchronised. I wrote the minutes for the International Student Group where we welcomed our newest member, FG, who’ll be co-coordinating the Stratford induction. We also planned to highlight our activities during the Staff Open day and get prepared for the pre-sessional orientation in July and August.
Babe and I ended the week with a trip to our favourite playground. We were walking through the courtyard when a swallow whizzed right above our heads. We’d to ducked down and watched it taking a breather under the beams. Another flew in and they began chattering and twittering away, exchanging news about what they’d had been up to. Meanwhile, on the roof, the Pied wagtails were flittering in and out of the solar panels. I was right. They were nesting there again. But, the highlight was when this beautiful Grey wagtail flew in with a beak full of food. It was waiting for the courtyard to be empty before flying to its nest which was situated in a nearby planter. Oh dear… not the best place for a nest. After taking a few photographs, we left so that she can feed her chicks in peace.
Along the path towards the hides, Peacock butterflies were basking in the sun. At Baldwin Hide, we saw Moorhens sitting on nests along Willow island. The Common Terns too were beginning to occupy the pontoons. Coots were being territorial and fighting all over the place. They were striking each other violently with their huge feet striking each others chest and pecking each others bills furiously, while flapping their wings for balance. It was like a scene from a kung-fu film.
From East Marsh Hide, Galdwall and Shelduck were dabbling in the lake. The very grey-coloured Galdwall if seen close-up was made up of exquisitely fine barring and speckling. Because it nests in low numbers in the UK, it was regarded as an Amber List species. The familiar trills “tser, si-si-si” outside the hide caught my attention. A party of Long-tailed Tits were flitting through the nearby hedgerows and were communicating with excited contact calls. One even posed for us with its distinctive colouring with a tail that was longer than its tiny, pinkish body.
We continued towards the screen where a Whitethroat was perched on top of the bushes and singing its heart out. I stood there watching him pouring out its chattering song with its throat extended. The song seemed to reflect their preferred habitat, thorny, scrubby patches of hawthorn and bramble. He was singing in brief bursts, sometimes taking to the air in a high song-flight and coming back to another bush to mark the boundaries of his territory. The rich rusty back and ashy head was in contrast with the white throat. The screen was dead and we made a pit stop at Carlton hide.
Here we saw at first we spotted a Little Grebe paddling along the reed-beds. Suddenly it made a whinnying call and 2 more appeared and they began paddling and diving alternately. According to one of the regulars, they were nesting in the reeds. Ooh… I’m looking forward to that.
“Upon this promise did he raise his chin
Like a dive-dapper, peering through a wave
Who being look’d on, ducks as quickly in.
~From Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis~
In our garden, we have a visitor that we were looking forward to see. A Jay was coming in regularly to feed at the feeders and it tended to come early in the morning or late evening. Despite its colourful plumage, Jays behaved in such a way that they could often be missed, being heard more than seen. The most typical sound is the harsh screeching calls as they flew away with their white rump and white and blue wing-patches just visible. The alarm call earned them the Gaelic name of ‘schreachag choille’ which meant ‘screamer of the woods.’ No matter how loud they scream, they were always welcome to our garden.
This month we lost another member of staff, JC, who lost her fight battling with cancer. RIP JC.