Spring had sprung in all its glory. But, I never knew what to expect as the glorious sunny days were interspersed with biting winds and driving rains. And still the flowers opened and blossomed against the deep blue skies or clinging to the branch as the winds ripped the petals. Britain was truly in bloom as evidenced by these magnificent cherry blossoms. It was a sight to behold especially when in full riotous bloom. These colourful display were at their absolute peak thanks to the combination of sunny days and cold nights. Clouds of these fluffy ornamental cherry blossoms were everywhere. Trees that were dull and uninteresting for eleven months of the year, suddenly became alive and what a sight. During my lunch break, you can always find me under these trees oohing and aahing, at these spectacular blooms.
Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of Spring
The perfect time to view these blossoms was when the buds had fully opened into flowers and before the leaves of the cherry wood started to develop. This was a very short time only and the university grounds appeared most spectacularly engulfed with the sea of white or pink, lacy blossoms. Eventually the brown leaves began to dominate the vista and the blossoms fell from the branches, a rain of petals fluttering down to carpet the ground. Due to their very short flowering time, the blossoms were often seen as a metaphor for life itself, luminous and beautiful, yet fleeting and ephemeral.
There is no glory in a star or blossom till looked upon by a loving eye. There is no fragrance in April breezes till breathed with joy as they wander by.
~Wm. C. Bryant~
Sakura was the Japanese name for flowering cherry trees and their blossoms while Hanami literally meant ‘blossom viewing’. In Japan, it was a national celebration. The custom of Hanami was originally limited to the elite and nobility but soon spread to the samurai society and then blossomed to include all levels of society. During the peak of the blooming season, families gathered in large numbers spending time together picnicking, drinking sake and soaking in the cycle of nature. There was a legend that each spring a fairy maiden hovered low in the warm sky, wakening the sleeping cherry trees with her delicate breath. A fallen cherry blossom symbolized a fallen samurai who had sacrificed his life for the emperor. That was why during World War 2, they were painted on the side of Kamikaze warplanes!!!
Could I die under a cherry blossom tree in full bloom on a full-moon night of spring?
~Saigyo, Japanese monk~
It was a miracle that I managed to tear myself away from these stunning blooms which were outside my window. I’d to participate in an e-forum and concentrate on a webinar. First was a 2 day Rare book cataloguing e-forum organised by CIG. Although the library don’t have a rare book collection, I think it would be useful as a cataloguer to know what was going on. It seemed that knowing a variety of languages especially Latin was an important criteria plus a knowledge of historical bibliography. A good understanding of standards, provenance, bindings and palaeography were useful for a better understanding of the collection.
Then it was a SUNCAT webinar. SUNCAT was the Serials Union Catalogue for the UK research community containing bibliographic, holdings and ToCs information for serials (both print and electronic) held in 100 libraries across the country. It was a freely available tool designed to help researchers, students, librarians and other interested party to locate serials held in these libraries. I queried why non-standard subject headings were accepted into the catalogue. The reason given was that many libraries do not use the standard subject headings as many local subject headings weren’t covered under LCSH or MeSH as they were not appropriate or granular enough. I think I need to check these local headings….
Finally, I was in London with JG to attend a Digital Preservation Workshop. I was glad when this came up because it was on my ‘to do’ list for my annual appraisal. What a perfect timing. I can now ticked it off my list. I met JG in London and we took the tube to the Barbican Centre. From here, we tried to dodge the road-works that suddenly sprung out of nowhere. After finding the place, we quickly refreshed ourselves, had coffee (in my case hot water because no herbal tea was supplied) and joined the rest of the participants. We were the only librarian among the archivists, historians, record managers and curators. We spent the day sitting through a series of presentations, case studies and exercises where we learnt how to apply the techniques of assessment, risk management and planning to help secure our digital collections.
After all these e-forum, webinar and workshop, I needed to get out and clear my head. I was very excited when I found out from Twitter that a hoopoe was seen in Slimbridge WWT, most probably lost on migration. But due to work commitments and Babe’s health, we couldn’t just put everything down and sped off. So we waited for the weekend and off course, by that time it was just a memory. But there were still plenty of things for us to see and photograph. It was a lovely sunny day on the drive down through fields of rapeseeds in their stunning yellow colours that chequered the countryside.
We were quite surprised to see the reserve deserted. Where was everyone? We headed straight to Rushy Hide and was greeted by a family of Greylags with 4 very fluffy, adorable goslings. Greylags were considered sacred by the Romans after reportedly saving Rome in 390BC. When the Gauls tried to climb in, the geese warned the Romans with their loud vocal calls about the attempted invasion. After this, Caesar believed that they were sacred and ordered that they were not to be eaten in Pre-Roman Britain. There were also dozens of Shelducks and an Egyptian goose having a siesta under the warm April afternoon. A lone Black-tailed Godwit was feeding along the mudbanks while the Black headed gulls were having a little squabble among themselves.
We went to the next hide and there were more Shelducks upending about in the lake, feeding on submerged plants and animals. A dozen or so Black-tailed Godwits were looking majestic with their long legs, long bills and russet summer plumage. They were wading alongside the Shelducks and probing vigorously often with the head completely submerged. A pair of Common Cranes were standing guard by the reed-beds. Last year, Monty and Chris had 2 chicks but unfortunately they were predated. Fingers-crossed, they will be nesting soon and praying hard that they’ll successfully produce a chick or two.
We continued on and made a pit stop by the tunnel to see if the voles were about. I think they must have abandoned the burrows because it looked dry and covered with leaves. At Willow Hide, a bald Robin was feeding under the bird-feeder together with a few rats. He looked like a very mini vulture with a red breast. I think it might had mites and causing it to loose feathers. He looked healthy and hopefully will recover. Colourful Goldfinches were busy singing in high pitched rapid twitters on the Willow tree. There were plenty of butterflies such as Brimstone, Orange tip, White and Peacocks but they weren’t stopping for photographs.
“Do you realise, Goldfinch
what a flash finch you are, with your little tail-feathers”
At Robbie Garnet hide, there were more Shelducks, Black-tailed Godwits and Common Cranes. The later were trumpeting from time to time. The tack piece was empty. The waders must either be feeding on the estuary or sitting on eggs. We continued to Holden Towers where we saw Avocets nesting on an island in the middle of the wetlands. There were seven nests occupied with two broods on the scrape. Colony size and density were determined by the availability of suitable nest sites, distance to water and risk of predation. The nests which were built by both parents were shallow scrapes on bare mud and composed of short pieces of stems, roots and leaves of marsh vegetation. A pair of Crane was tracking another single crane which happened to be in their territory. I was hoping for some action but the intruder just backed off.
We made a pit stop at Wader shore and the usual culprits were having a little snooze that we left these sleeping beauties alone. We then headed straight to the South Lake where a lecustic Greylags caught our attention. Leucism was a very unusual condition whereby the pigmentation cells failed to develop properly. This resulted in unusual white patches or turning completely white. There were hundreds of Black Headed gulls making themselves heard. According to the board, there were 120 Black tailed Godwits and I think there were more. Sociable birds, they were feeding in large flocks, busy probing the mudbanks with their bills for invertebrate-preys. A guided tour was going on and we lingered for a while to listen. Nothing that we’d never heard before.
Babe wanted to check Hogarth Hide and on the way there, we spotted Moorhens sitting on eggs in very well-hidden nesting sites. At the hide, we watched a trio of Avocets flying in and started feeding very close to where we were sitting. They came closer and closer that we could see the distinctively-patterned black and white with their long up-curved beaks. All were busily feeding, constantly sweeping their partly –opened bills in the shallow pools. In the deep waters, they swam readily and buoyantly, constantly upending like ducks. A lone Common Crane was also feeding and he also came very close to the hide.
We spent about an hour here taking photographs of the Avocets and Common Crane. We only left after they’d flown off. Then we checked out the rest of the reserve to see if there were any new captive species added. We also saw a Mute Swan sitting on a huge mound of vegetation of reeds and rushes, and had a lining of down. Nests were built by the females, while the male supplied the materials. We checked the roofs of the visitor centre for swallows but it looked empty. They must be busy feeding to fatten up before they start laying eggs. Then it was time to head home.
Back home, I was busy in the kitchen to bake a Malay dessert known as Seri Muka or literally translated as Bright Face :-). It is steamed glutinous rice in coconut milk with a pandan custard topping. We were invited to a garden party and I wanted to bring it with me. Everytime, I am invited to someone’s house, I never turned up empty handed. But unfortunately, Babe wasn’t feeling too good and I texted to say we can’t make it which was a shame. Any way, we enjoyed the dessert very much.
For Bottom Layer:
300 g glutinuos rice (soak for 30 minutes in water)
200 ml thin coconut milk (100ml coconut milk plus 100 ml water)
2 screwpine (pandan) leaves (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
For Top Layer:
200 ml thick coconut milk or coconut cream
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
170 g sugar
100 ml pandan/screwpine juice (from 8-10 pandan leaves)
5 tablespoon all-purpose flour + 2 Tablespoon cornstarch
Mixed all the ingredients for the bottom layer and steam on high heat for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the top layer. Mix the eggs, coconut milk, sugar, pandan juice and flour. Stir until smooth. Cook over boiling water (using double boil method) until the mixture thickens slightly but still runny enough to pour.
After 20 minutes, take out the glutinuous rice mixture, stir and flatten it with spoon or hands. Make sure it is compact. Use a sieve to pour the egg mixture on to the rice mixture.
Steam on medium heat for 30 minutes. Leave to cool before cutting into diamond-shaped or rectangle-shaped pieces.
After a good rest, we checked out our favourite playground to see what the natives were up to. And we weren’t alone. The place was swarming with kids but thankfully they were contained by the dipping pond and the den-making sites. The reserve looked very green as the ferns and bracken began to unfurl, the hedgerows greening up and wildflowers gracing the verges. Mother Nature does her best. The bank along Goose pool was covered with primroses that were coming up with their dainty pale yellow flowers with orange centres. These vigorous plants seemed to be multiplying every year, adding stunning colours to the landscape. In the language of flowers, primroses symbolised early youth, fears, a sense of being forsaken, inconstancy, innocence and lovers’ doubts.
“Oh fairest flower, no sooner blown but blasted, Soft silken primrose fading timelessly”
We continued on and was greeted by the Chiffchaffs with their monotonous and irregular repetition of two notes ‘chiff-chaff-chif-chif-chaf’ and the Cetti Warbler’s very distinctive explosive loud and abrupt calls. They sounded so close but it was just impossible to see them because of the dense undergrowth. At Baldwin Hide, we opened the shutter towards the island very slowly because there was a Canada Goose nesting right underneath the window. The male was standing guard nearby and gave us the evil eye. They’d nested here before and later abandoned the nest. Fingers-crossed, they’ll be successful this time.
We continued towards East Marsh hide stopping by the bank where rare mining bees were nesting. Branches of wood were put over the site to stop people from climbing the bank and destroying the nest. We kept on saying that we were going to put a sign up but I think the branches does deter people. From the hide, we saw a few Coots, Greylags and Canada Geese sitting on eggs on the island. Redshanks with their orange-red legs were flying in and out alerting us with their tew-hoo-hoo alarm calls. A pair of Oyster catcher was also on the island probing the mudbanks with their long, orange red bills for mollusks and other crustaceans.
Suddenly on Wigeon bank which was opposite us, a pair of Muntjac appeared. Whoop…whoop. The female preferred to feed in the thick undergrowth but the male was out in the open. Males have short antlers, which can re-grow, but they tended to fight for their territory with their tusks (downward-pointing canine teeth). We held our breaths and watched it getting closer and closer to the water edge for a drink. It was quite close that we could see the bump on each side of the head.
Also known as the barking deer or Mastreani deer, they were first introduced from China to Woburn Park in Bedfordshire in 1900 and escapees had since established wild populations. It was said that you’re more likely to hear its dog-like bark than see it in the wild. They uttered loud barks over prolonged periods and equally loud distress calls. But I’d never heard it before. Standing at just 20 inches tall uniform reddy-brown colour coat, they were expert at hiding way in brambles, rushes and long grass. Slowly, we watched it slipped away through the reed beds.
Then we headed to the very quiet Carlton hide. The algae had covered the pool again. We were about to leave when a Kestrel flew in and started hovering very close to the hide. It headed into the wind and kept stationary with great precision by flying at exactly the speed of the wind. It held its wings forward, which tipped the bird up so that it was flying partly upwards and its body and spread tail caught more of the wind both to lift and to hold back. It did swopped to the ground but flew up empty handed. After several tries, it flew to the nearby tree and started surveying the area. What an attractive bird with a copper-brown back and bluish head and tail, the later tipped white and black.
In a great western wind we climbed the hill
And saw the clouds run up, ride high and sink;
And there were shadows running at our feet
Till it seemed the very earth could not be still,
Nor could our hearts be still, nor could we think
Our hearts could ever be still, our thought less fleet
Than the dizzy clouds, less than the flying wind.
Eastward the valley and the dark steep hill
And other hills and valleys lost behind
In mist and light. The hedges were not yet bare
Though the wind picked at them as he went by.
The woods were fire, a fire that dense or clear
Burned steady, but could not burn up the shadows
Rooted where the trees' roots entangled lie,
In darkness; or a flame burned solitary
In the middle of the highest of brown meadows,
Burned solitary and unconsuming where
A red tree stooped to its black shadow and
The kestrel's shadow hunted the kestrel up the hill.
We climbed, and as we stood (where yet we stand
And of the visioned sun and shadow still drink)
Happiness like a shadow chased our thought
That tossed on free wings up and down the world;
Till by that wild swift-darting shadow caught
Our free spirits their free pinions furled.
Then as the kestrel began once more the heavens to climb
A new-winged spirit rose clear above the hills of time.
The Kestrel by John Freeman
Finally, a quick stop at Ted Jury Hide. The steps had been repaired but the smell of the wood varnish was still very strong that we’d to open all the windows. A Little Grebe or Dabchick was in the pool just below the hide. A small dumpy grebe with a fluffy rear end. It had its summer colours of bright chestnut throat and cheeks with a pale gape patch at the base of the bill. It was busy diving, hunting small fishes and other aquatic invertebrates. When it spotted us, it quickly dived in and surfaced some distance away, under the reeds.
I went outside when I heard a loud, clear fluting song and immediately spotted the singer. It was very handsome Blackcap. The song was a beautiful warbling and whistling, starting quietly with low warblings and becoming richer and louder until it abruptly rose to a clear whistling which ended with a set phrase, either rising or falling. I felt as if I needed to give him a standing ovation :-). Later in the season, the preliminary warblings were shortened and the last songs which were heard around the end of July were only final whistling. The calls were pebble clashing tak-tak. The females arrived later and were attracted to the territory of a male by his persistent singing. By the sound of it, this male won’t stay single for long.
Then we slowly made our way to the car. Babe stopped at East Marsh hide while I lingered under the hawthorn trees. A song was being sung and I was curious to identify the singer. Unfortunately, he was high up the canopy and my sight was hampered by the leaves and branches. But I persisted because I noticed it was creeping from branches to branches. I think it was a Willow warbler, probably the most numerous bird in the country during summer. The song was unhurried and lilting, with a short sequence of clear notes descending in pitch and fading away but reviving for a second descent. I was so lucky to have photograph this bird.
We also made another trip to Draycote Waters, which now seemed to be our 2nd favourite playground. It was buzzing both on the waters and land. The fishing season was in full swing as we saw at least a dozen boats moored near the embankment. We enjoyed watching the fishermen struggling to reel in their catch. Some were successful including this guy. Check out the fish. That will be dinner for tonight. There were a few sailing and yachting practices going on. We’d to move quickly or else we would be eaten alive by clouds of flies and midgets.
We were hoping to see and photographs Wheatear, a summer visitor and a passage migrant that wintered in Central Africa. As they were ground-dwelling bird, we scanned the piles of rocks and soil that were dug up by the rabbits, but we didn’t spot any. We were then distracted by colourful Goldfinches that were flying on to the pavement and looked like they were hanging on to the wall. We looked carefully and found that they were hunting for spiders, ants and larva. Aah… they must have chicks. Adult Goldfinches feed on various tree seeds such as alder and birch and on thistles, teasel and dandelion seeds but chicks were fed by regurgitation. We sat there listening to their pleasant ramblings and tinkling.
A flock of birds suddenly flew from the grassy embankments. We carefully walked down and sat among the grass trying to lend in which wasn’t difficult because we were in camouflaged clothing. We sat and waited patiently and guess what, Pied wagtails, Linnets and Yellow wagtails. Whoop… whoop. The Yellow wagtails were extremely stunning birds, and when they arrived in spring was a joy to see. They had bright yellow head, with crown and ear coverts. There was an eye stripe which was yellow, while the chin and throat was bright yellow which extended down and under the belly.
We watched them collect insects from the ground when walking and sometimes by more rapid pursuits and even short fly-catching flights. Unfortunately, the flights were just too quick to photograph. Sharp ‘pseep’ high calls greeted us as they wandered around us hunting for food. They nested near sources of water where insects for food were abundant. Unfortunately, their reliance on insects had made them vulnerable to the intensification of British farming, especially the improvement and reduction of pasture.
Intensive farming too had resulted in the decline of the Linnet, a very active finch. The males were in full breeding plumage with red foreheads and breasts. The females lacked the red but were streaked and dark brown above. They had an undulating flight and were busy twittering as they flew. They were feeding on the ground, their food mainly consisting of seeds from most arable weeds. Linnets were named after their favourite food which were seeds. Linseed was the seed of flax, giving the bird its common name, while the Latin name ‘cannabina’ referred to hemp.
I heard a linnet courting
His lady in the spring:
His mates were idly sporting,
Nor stayed to hear him sing
His song of love.--
I fear my speech distorting
His tender love.
‘I heard a linnet courting’ by Robert Bridges
We went home as soon as we felt the first rain-drop. We planned to check out the rugby match between Wasps and Exeter Chiefs at the Ricoh Arena. But, we’d to cancel it because Babe was exhausted. What a shame because the tickets were free and it was too late to give it to someone else. I never liked taking freebies and not using them. 'C’est la vie. But, it wasn’t a wasted day. I mowed the front lawn which needed doing weekly. Sunshine and showers had made things coming out in a rush including weeds. Aargh…. I also made banana muffins and Anzac cookies for Anzac day, not to celebrate the day but to remember.
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup coconut
- 125 g butter
- 2 tbs golden syrup
- 1 tbs water
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the sugar, rolled oats and coconut.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the golden syrup and water.
- Stir the bicarbonate of soda into the liquid mixture.
- Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
- Place walnut-sized balls of mixture on a greased tray and bake at 175C for 15-20 minutes.
- Biscuits will harden when cool.
25th April marked the hundreth anniversary of the start of the British-led army invasion of Gallipoli on Turkey’s Dardanellr Peninsula, which resulted in over 200,000 thousand dead and wounded in an 8 month period. Gallipoli was a military disaster. Yet, a century on, politicians seek to glorify the First World War, calling the huge loss of life at Gallipoli ‘a price worth paying’. Many of these were major casualties for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). Yet, the Australian government spent $300 million commemorating the WW1 centenary, and used it to promote militarism and national myths. Veterans’ group had condemned the ‘national circus’ that Anzac day had become.
Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong?
The UK government spent £60 million on its own national circus and this was in times of the so-called austerity There were a number of events in London, Portsmouth and Turkey. There was no mention of Churchill’s role as prime mover of the Gallipoli catastrophe, which led to his dismissal from the government. Rather than celebrating the rewriting of history to promote new wars being waged on this 100th anniversary, it was important to remember what really happened at Gallipoli.
War should be made a crime, and those who instigate it should be punished as criminals
~Charles Evans Hughes~.
I also managed to take the first photograph of a hedgehog for 2015. They’d been coming regularly every night at 9 pm since end of March but it was too cold to leave the patio doors open in order to see them. I put the mashed dog food sprinkled liberally with dried mealworms and left them by the steps leading to the garden. It was lovely to see them again and fingers-crossed more will turn up when the news spread. It saddened me to read about the decline of these animal. As Philip Larkin wrote in “The Mower”, a poem he composed after he killed a hedgehog while cutting grass, it seemed that humans had ‘mauled’ their ‘unobtrusive world’. We must realised that their decline was all the more significant since like butterflies, they were known to be an ‘indicator species’, whose fate mirrored what was happening to the natural world as a whole. It was sad and scary that a fifth of Britons had never seen these prickly creatures. I’m glad that 33,000 households had joined a Hedgehog Street campaign to welcome them in their gardens. A start had been made, as Larkin ended his poem, ‘there is still time’’.
So much is happening in garden and countryside that I run this way and that trying to hold everything at once: the wall flowers, the tulips, the lilac and the apple blossom. I should like to stay the pace of Time here at this point and to linger over the last of April, but all around life rises like tide and I am carried forward into the exciting anticipation of pleasures to come.