May was named after the Greek goddess of fertility, Maia, and it was the time flowers emerged and crops sprouted. May also meant Lilac blossoms, one of the signs that Spring was finally giving way to Summer. And once those sweet haunting fragrance blooms opened, the garden entered a softer phase. The Edwardians adored these clusters of voluminous cascading blossoms but somehow they managed to fall out of favour in the 1960s. Thankfully, they were back on trend as few shrubs could produce such sumptuous flowers as stars of the season for a few fleeting weeks. I loved them and was so lucky that we have an established shrub when we moved here.
Now in a cottage built of lilacs and laughter
I know the meaning of the words … ever after
~Polka Dots and Moon Beams~
It was the start of our annual pilgrimage to Bempton Cliffs. It was a smooth ride until we arrived at Holme-on-Spalding-Moor when suddenly we were at a standstill for about 30 minutes. There must be either an accident or a carnival because the streets were fluttering with flags and buntings. We later drove past crowds walking back to their cars or homes. There were plenty of cyclists on the road too. And then we drove under a huge banner welcoming the Tour de Yorkshire contingent. It was the Stage 1 route of the tour and that was why the roads were closed to let them pass. We spotted different types of bicycles painted in yellow and blue and placed in all sorts of positions. Unfortunately, none of the photographs that I took turned out ok.
From the top of the hill, we could see that it was going to be a very busy day at Bempton Cliffs. The overflow car-park was nearly full but thankfully, we managed to find a parking space by the new visitor centre which was opened in early spring this year. You don’t have to be a twitcher or photographer to be impressed by the sight of 250k seabirds gathering to nest and breed here. From April to October, the RSPB hosted this annual spectacle of thousands of noisy gannets, razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars and puffins. We were greeted by the very chirpy Tree Sparrows that were nesting and posing on the roof. We stood there listening to their hard and piercing ‘tek’ conversational calls.
Inside, we paid the entrance fee. Unfortunately, there was a price increase from £5 per car to £3.50 each adult as I knew this would happen. After using the facilities, we scanned the new centre which included an exhibition area and large screens with live images from the cliffs, perfect for those rainy, windy days and those uncomfortable with heights. The decked area overlooking (coming soon) wildflower meadows was packed with visitors enjoying a meal. There used to be several bird-feeders here and overgrown brambles where Tree sparrows, various finches and tits would hang out.
We followed the paved route straight to the nearest viewpoint where our senses were assaulted by the amazing sight, smells and sounds of thousands and thousands of birds. We have been here so many times but the spectacular views never failed to vow us everytime. The cliffs were a seething mass of activity. Thousands of Arctic birds swooped onto tiny ledges no more than a few inches wide to nest away from the harsh Arctic winds, hundreds of feet in the air. A perfect nesting place, very close to rich fishing grounds.
These cliffs were home to the only mainland breeding colony of Gannets in England. They arrived at the colony from January and left in August/September. These thousands of impressive and majestic Gannets were the stars of the show with their incessant sound of ‘cackling’ calls. and graceful swift flight. They were either constantly flying in formation just like the Dawn Patrol or criss-crossing the sky. These soaring white geese with ink tipped wings that spanned reaching up to 2 metres (taller than me!) and piercing blue eyes exaggerated with eyeliner which gave them the name Spectacled Goose. The breeze was lifting and holding them stationary at eye level. Woo…hoo what a delight.
Gannets were silent except during breeding, when the head and neck were brushed in a delicate yellow. From time to time, their rough throaty hard cacklings could be heard. They paired for life and occupy the same nest each year. We enjoyed watching their bonding displays like bowing, sky-pointing and mutual ‘fencing’ of the bills. The males built the nests out of seaweed, feathers, grass, earth and sometimes strings and nets, all kept together with their droppings.
We watched a group of Gannets having a bit of a scrap. And argue they did, locking bills, flapping wings and trying to twist and topple their opponents. The young were often seen practising this while loitering around the cliff-tops where they appeared to be landforming the boulder clay that sit on top of the chalk cliffs into terraces suitable for nest sites. The name Gannet had a long lineage, ultimately derived from the same root as goose and gander. It had been used since Anglo-Saxon times.
‘… had for amusement the cry of the Gannet
And the trill of Whimbrels instead of the laughter of men
The Kittiwakes’ song in place of mead’
Neat silver-grey and white soft-eyed kittiwakes danced past on buoyant wings, and the cliffs resound to their name constantly being called, a shrill ‘kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake’ as returning birds greeted their mates. It was only during courtship and nesting time that the birds ‘kittiwake’. For the rest of the year they were mostly silently except for an occasional ‘kit’.True gulls of the open sea, they spent half the year out in the middle of North Sea and North Atlantic, only returning inland to breed. They tend to leave their summer breeding grounds earlier if they failed to breed and headed 1,800 miles to over-winter in Canada.
10% of the UK population lived here on the cliffs at Bempton. They had white heads and bodies with black legs and yellow bills. In winter, they acquired a dark grey smudge behind the eyes and grey hind-neck collar. They were nesting from crafted raised woven nests hefted to the crumbling chalk face. They were the gentlest in appearance of all gulls, and it may be this, combined with their plaintive calling that lies behind a belief that the souls of dead children go into Kittiwakes.
Jet black razorbills tucked themselves away in crevices and cracks. They had broader, blunter bills, picked out by a smart coachline along the top and tip. The edges of their hooked upper beaks were very sharp, enabling them to grasp fish and defend themselves against predators. They too only came to shore to breed and then wintered in the northern Atlantic. They weren’t particularly vocal but deep creaking ‘urr’ were produced by breeding individuals. They were quite quarrelsome too. In Cornwall, an alternative common name was ‘murre’ which was probably imitative of the call. The scientific name Alca was thought to derive from the Icelandic word which again was an imitation of another call, a harsh ‘arrc-arrc’. The French called them ‘petit pingouin’.
It was sad to know that the future of this species were linked to the health of the marine environment. Fishing nets, pollution and declining fish stock all threatened these razorbills. They were among the rarest auks in the world and how lucky that we could still see them here. In combination, 20% of the world population bred around the British and Irish coasts. Together with the Guillemots, they were among the first birds to fledge from the cliffs, and were gone before the puffins left their cliff top burrows.
Dark brown guillemots were usually silent but growled a loud whirring sound when on the nests. It would be lovely to see their courtship which took place in water where one will be swimming around the other which spins to face it. They also have communal displays where several pairs were circling and bobbing or standing and flapping wings. We were so excited when we spotted an egg, a blue pointed one that rolled in a circle if disturbed. They nest in colonies on narrow ledges, all very squashed together. That was why each egg was differently marked with unique squiggles and splodges to help them find their own eggs.
Standing upright on rock ledge, with their white underparts showing and paddle-like feet sticking out in front, the Guillemots were the nearest thing Britain had to a penguin:-). They stood upright and lined every ledge and cranny and crammed together shoulder to shoulder on the narrow rock ledges. We were surprised to have spotted at least half a dozen the less common ‘bridled’ but were more common as you go north. Bridled birds had narrow but distinct white line around the eye, running back towards the nape. This earned them a number of special names such as Ring-eyed Scout and Bridled Marrot.
Babe was pleased when he spotted one of his favourite birds, zooming across the cliffs. Fulmars looked like gulls but their grey wings have pale patches in the primaries. The whiteness of their bodies and relative thickness of their head earned them the nickname ‘flying milk bottle’. They have tubular nostrils and the grey wings glided with stiffly and flew with short beats. Pairs were monogamous and we’d seen this pair at the same ledge everytime we were here. They seemed to be arguing making cackling and grunting noises. Birds at nest sites displays by opening bill wide, waving head back and forth while calling. Mated pairs nibbled at each other’s head and bill.
To defend their nests, Fulmars launched an evil-smelling stream of stomach oils from their throats. Foul Maa, or Foul Gull was so named because of this pungent oily spew. It was a very ancient name which occurred in an Icelandic saga, written by a tenth century satirist called Hallfredth. They were also likened to a mini albatross because they seemed to enjoy flying in stronger winds. Their long narrow wings enabled them to fly great distances and were one of the best birds at gliding on air currents.
But the highlight of the reserve and what everyone wanted to see were these adorable Puffins. The curious appearance of these birds, with their large colourful bills, striking piebald plumage and sad eyes, had given rise to nicknames such as ‘clown of the ocean’ and ‘sea rooster’. These Atlantic Pierrot puffins were the provincial bird for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. With their bright orange splayed feet, colourful bills and comical walk, it was hard not to be cheered by the sight of these birds. These plucky seabirds spent 8 months out at sea before flying in each spring to breed. And when they touched down, they were in the mood for socialising.They’d been away for so long that they were keen for a good chinwag to catch up on any gossips. It was a joy to watch them as they busily meet and greet each other.
Puffins have a very endearing courtship display in which the pair rub their beaks together excitedly known as ‘billing’. But despite their jovial appearance, these spirited tiny birds had their work cut out from the moment they land ashore. There were fights over the females, the cleaning out of last year’s nesting burrows and the daily fishing to feed their chicks. Aggressive encounters between two puffins often began by gaping. This involved a puffin puffing up its body to look bigger and opening its beak and wings slightly. The wider the beak, the more upset the puffin.
At first, we planned to walked back to the car and have something to eat before returning and walking towards the other end of the reserve to the New Roll-up and Staple Newk viewpoints. Unfortunately, the icy North Sea winds had returned and the hill top was becoming like an ice-berg. So we decided to head straight home and returned again somewhere in mid-summer. We waded through a sea of Red Campions with ecstatic skylarks singing high up in the sky while below us the winds whipped the North Sea into a cauldron of foam and spume. After warming our cockles with cheese and onion pasties, washed down with steaming mugs of coffee, I dashed to the feeding point to see what was about. It was dark in the bushes and there were only Tree sparrows, Greenfinches, Blackbirds, Great and Blue tits. Then it was time to head home with the Goldfinch waving us ‘Au revoir’.
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~
We made another trip to Draycote Waters to check if the Wheatears were about. We scanned the piles of stones and soil that the rabbits had dug up but there was no one home. Thankfully, the stunning Yellowhammer made up for our disappointment. The bright yellow yellow plumage on the head of the breeding males were so distinctive, alongside their chestnut rump and long, white edged tail.Even with these vivid colours, it was quite hard to spot them feeding among the wild meadow flowers, picking seeds and insects.
We sat on the grassy banks to see if we can hear the common renderings of the yellowhammer’s song : “a little bit of bread and no cheese’ although in Scotland it was ‘may the devil take you’. But all we could hear was a short, melancholy phrase with final syllable at lower pitch ‘tsi-tsi-tsi-tsi-tsi-tsi-tsi-tsi-duh’. It was the common contact call given in flight or perched.
A Pied wagtail with its looping flight scattered them off. But we were more interested in the Yellow wagtail which descending glide in front of us. A summer visitor, it was ‘so full of a dainty and buoyant airiness of stance and flight’ according to the New Naturalist (1950). Their spring return had produced the usual names of Spring and Summer wagtail, Oat-seed bird and off course, Sunshine bird, a reference to both the season and to their seasonal colour.
A Mistle Thrush popped on the fence to join our little party. The largest European thrush. it had grey-brown above with large spots below with a very confident posture checking us out. I was hoping that it would sing its wild challenging song but not today.
‘In early March, before the lark
Dare start, beside the huge oak tree
Close fixed agen the powdered bark,
The mains’ nest I often see;
And mark, as wont, the bits of wool
Hang round about its early bed;
She lays six eggs in colours dull,
Blotched thick with spots of burning red’
A Linnet flew in and watched the fun. The male’s rosy crown and breast had turned to a warm red in the breeding season. They don’t moult to bring out their red courtship colours. These feathers which eventually appeared red start off with dullish browny tips and, as these tips wore down, the bright red beneath, which gave to so many rose-red names, was exposed. Since they had short, broad bills , they fed mainly from dock or chickweed, whose seeds were attached to the stem, or picked up the seeds from the ground.
We seemed to be spending more time on the meadows and grassy banks than along the reservoir. The fishing season was on and their presence had caused serious disturbance along the shores where the waders came to feed. There were still plenty of Coots, Mallards, Little Grebes, Great Crested Grebes, Tufted ducks, Mute Swans, Greylags and Canada Geese about but they mainly fed in the middle of the reservoir. As we were about to leave, this exotic looking aeroplane flew across the Warwickshire skies. They must be on their way to or from air-shows that were taking place all over the country. Unfortunately, this year we won’t be visiting any and thus just content photographing them when they happen to fly above us. I was also furious because my camera gave up. Aaargh… what do I do ? My life was now ruined :-)
But not to worry. I went back to my trusty ancient DSLR Nikon D50. I guess better start saving AGAIN. We went to Bradgate Park to test the old boy. And we weren’t alone. On one of the hottest bank holidays of the year, thousands of people were there. Thankfully, we managed to find a parking space at the 2nd overflow car-park which was nearly full. As we crossed the stream towards the entrance, a very garlicky aroma enveloped us. Along the banks of the River Lin, which flowed through the park, were swathes of flowering ramsons or wild garlic. What a shame there wasn’t smellovision:-)
With these number of people, the natives won’t be nearby and we were right. We spotted a herd of fallows feeding under the trees of the other side of the river where it was out of bounds for visitors. Bradgate Park’s red and fallow deer were some of the finest herds of parkland deer in the country. The average number of deer kept here was around 400 and about three quarters were fallow deer. They were unique among deer in having many colours, ranging from nearly black to almost white as well as the more common brown with white spots. It was great watching them chilling out under the shade watching us watching them.
We continued walking on the pavement as the grassy meadows and the river banks were covered with people having picnics, playing games and pond-dipping. It was lovely to see people out and about enjoying the warmth and having fun. We headed straight to Lady Jane’s ruins which were opened during the summer months. The tiny chapel was closed for renovations and there were plenty of signs to warn people not to climb the ancient crumbling walls. We headed straight to the flock of deer at back of the compound. There were new notices up warning people not to get close to the deer. We sat down before the ‘invisible’ boundary and photographed the very relaxed herd.
Suddenly, there was pandemonium. The herd was running all over the place being chased by a very exuberant dog. We could hear the owner shouting and calling the dog but it was having too much fun. We watched a man climbed over the crumbling, ancient wall and saw at least three young children running and calling after the dog. After about 10 harrowing minutes, the dog was caught and as they lead the dog away, a warden’s jeep drove to them. We saw a few exchanges and papers were signed. And then I think they were asked to leave. Phew …
Another warden came to where we were sitting and asked if we’d seen anything. Babe told him that we’d photographed everything and asked us if we could e-mailed them the photographs. The warden told us that they were driving from another dog-chasing incident at the bottom of the hill when one of the visitors flagged them up. That was why they were here quickly. We asked for the contact number because we’d come across a few incidents. He also told us that in this year alone, 4 deer had to be put down due to exhaustion. We told him that the regulation that ‘dogs found chasing deer will be shot’ should be implemented!!! All dogs should be on lead.
After all that excitement, we made our way to the termite hills where we spotted a Green Woodpecker feeding. It was so intent on digging the hills and probing deep into the galleries that we could creep closer. Termites adhered to the sticky saliva which coated the tongue as it wriggled, worm-like into the underground chambers. He was a handsome beauty with a red moustache and black edging with green and yellow plumage and a bright red crown. It looked out of place, a big colourful bird hopping about awkwardly and sitting back on its tail with its bill raised.
Babe crept closer and it flew flew off to a nearby tree with a laughing territorial call. On the tree trunk, it spiralled upwards with jerky hops, pausing to chip at the bark and peeped over its shoulder. It used his stiff tail as balance to help prop upright when climbing. The arrangement of toes, with two pointing up and two pointing down, when climbing, was another adaptation, as was the structure, and pattern of moult, of the tail feathers. We heard the cries of the Peacocks from behind the wall and that was a cue for us to head back to the car.
On the way back, we had an ice-cream each. It was such a hot day that I think we deserved a treat. While enjoying our ice-cream, we heard the familiar and distinctive ‘whee-oo’. We checked out the river and said hello to our favourite Wigeon. He was looking handsome in his breeding colours with a chestnut head and golden crown stripe. It was wonderful watching him dabbling at the water’s edge, whistling contentedly. Wigeon were vegetarian, grazing on land, or taking food from at or near the water surface.
Did you exercise your democratic rights? I’m proud of my vote even though it didn’t make an impression, grateful for the right to vote and for everyone else who turned out to vote. I woke up Friday morning with a government I don’t want to see in power. I was in mourning for a country that no longer cared for those less fortunate than themselves. The Conservatives came to power with 37% of 66% turnout. SNP dominated Scotland under Sturgeon; Labour dropped down and the Lib Dems dropped away. Three party leaders resigned although Farage (boo) returned and several big scalps were claimed. But it must not be the end. We don’t have to accept policies that have a negative impact on our lives. We can rally, protest, campaign, petition, scrutinise, pressurise , but we must not give in.
“We must fight. If we fight they might win. But if we don’t fight then off course they’ll win”
We needed a break from the disappointing results and popped down to Wales. It was very cloudy as we drove miles upon miles on the 40 mph road on the M54 due to road-works until Telford. Fields of blooming yellow rapeseeds dotted the countryside. The sun finally made an appearance as we navigated the 6 roundabouts through the outskirts of Shrewsbury. Along the Shropshire route, the verges and woodland floor were full of shimmering carpets of bluebells, cowslips, flowering gorses and buttercups. Spring was at its best.
First was a pit stop at Gilfach Nature Reserve. The Cambrian Mountains were looking stunning, dotted with flowering gorses.and heathers. We parked beside River Marteg and scanned the rocks for the Dipper. Unfortunately, the waters was too fast and the rocks were submerged. The gnarled old trees trees were still bare and the trunks and branches covered with mosses and lichens. Beneath them, pockets of Bluebells were beginning to bloom. We checked the sighting book in Otter hide. There were sightings of Dipper but not today. Goldfinches and Chaffinches were flying in and out of the woods.
Then we slowly drove up the very steep hill. Cuckoo calls were echoing all around us. We parked and made use of the facilities. We walked to the compound and it was very quiet. There was only another couple there. Above us Swallows were soaring the Welsh skies and the drumming of a Woodpecker could be heard close by. We walked along the Oakwood trail checking out the familiar tree that we’d seen them nesting several times before. Again, there was silence. By the bird-feeder, only Great, Blue and Coal tits were flying in and out. The smallest European tit, the coal tit was identified by the white patch on the nape.
We walked around the compound again. Babe walked down the hill where we’d photographed a pair of Redstart before but again, no one was home. A Jay was creating havoc among the local bird population as it went hunting for food. An extended party of Long-tailed tits caught my attention, streaming from tree to tree looking like flying tadpoles followed by a chorus of thin, high ‘see-see-see’ calls. As I was focusing my camera on them, another bird appeared. It was a Redstart. Woo…hoo. Unfortunately, it was facing the sun and this was the only photograph I got. A reminder that this handsome bird was back.
Then it was time to head to Nant-yr-Arian for the Red Kite feeding session. We always muddled up the time. It was 2 pm in summer and 3 pm in winter. Since we arrived early, we’d a picnic in the car with the Red Kites soaring and gliding around us, gathering in the hundreds. From time to time, a soft mewing sound could be heard. A Greenfinch flew by the fir tree besides us and made its presence known by its nasal, wheezing calls. Greenfinches were greeny brown in colour and the males have yellow patches on the wings.
After finishing our lunch, we made our way to the bird-feeder beside the decked cafe. Tree sparrows, Chaffinches and Siskins were taking turns to feed. Siskins were very attractive birds with their intricate pattern of black and yellow on the wings and tails, They were very acrobatic too as they feed and also quite aggressive trying to ‘see off’ the other birds. Their songs were thin and high, but had a peculiar yodelling quality with a characteristic ‘dluee’ note and strange wheezing notes at the ends of phrases.
Then we slowly trotted down the Barcud trail towards the lakeside opposite the feeding area. Large crowds had already gathered taking the best seat in the house. Above us, more Red Kites were gathering, slowly circling the skies. I checked the banks for tadpoles but I think all had grown into tiny froglets. A whirring call from a Little Grebe was heard but we cannot locate it. Then we were distracted by 2 pairs of Goosanders cruising up and down the lake. This body of water was always full of surprises. The largest European sawbill, with long, hook-tipped red bill, the male was looking handsome with black, grey and pinkish white with a dark green head, They must have been here for sometime because they too were waiting for the feeding extravaganza.
Then the warden came into view pushing a wheelbarrow full of goodies. As soon as he scattered it onto the open space, the frenzied partying began as hundreds furled their wings and swooped in, skimming the ground to snatch any scraps with their talons, before rising suddenly. With the meat clutched in its talons, they headed for clear airspace where they felt secure enough to feed. With its 1.8 metre wings spread out for stability, the head bowed down to meet with its forward lifted eggs. Now it can feed, but still keeping an eye for other marauding kites which tend to fly after those whose who had food and tried to steal them. We’d seen this behaviour countless of times and it never failed to amaze us.
We were very pleased to see the warden scattering some of the meat into the lake. They were good photographic opportunities as the majestic birds swooped over the lake, picking up the pieces. It was poetry in motion :-). There were hundreds in the air chasing each other and hundreds more competing with breath-taking feats of aerial display. They were even mugging from the Goosanders in the lake. You just don’t know where to point the camera. All you could hear were the rattling of our cameras. Babe was going to have fun editing these …
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 its flight’
‘Ah, no my son, it needs no string
No tail of red ribbons
No hand controlling its flight
For it’s a kite of the air
A kite that is free’
We ended the May bank holidays with another trip to Slimbridge WWT. Our membership renewal was coming up and we wanted to use the time left before we decided whether we wanted to continue. As usual, we headed straight to Rushy Hide. The Greylags family was still there and all 4 goslings had grown into very gangly teenagers with short grey feathers. There were dozens of Avocets skimming the water for food while the Shelducks were having a siesta. A lone Crane was spotted at the back of the pool and Black headed gulls were busy squabbling. We saw one still sitting on eggs.
As we walked towards the next hide, we came across a Black-veined white feeding on the sage flowers and a Brimstone feeding on a Ragged Robin. The contrasting colours were stunning. One of the joys of Spring was watching a fluttering Brimstone alight on a flower on a sunny day, one of the first signs that the seasons were changing. The distinctive shape and the intricate veining of the wings made it a remarkable and graceful butterfly. They were thought to be the original ‘butter-coloured fly.’
“The butterfly is a flying flower
The flower is a tethered butterfly
~Ponce Denis Ecouchard Lebrum~
We were very surprised to see all the hides and the tack piece virtually empty. Where had everybody gone? The summer walkway was closed to visitors because a pair of Cranes was suspected of nesting along the reed-beds. Until the wardens can locate the nest and take the appropriate steps in guarding the site, the walkway will remained close. We made our way back to the main reserve walking past the Decoy hide. We walked on the raised gangway where below us families of Coots and Moorhens with the ugliest chicks that only a mother could love.
By the kiosks, the doe-eyed Nenes, the rarest geese in the world, were following the visitors and begging for food. A family of Bewick’s Swans were cruising along the pond. But we were more interested in this pair of Jackdaws collecting feathers for their nest. We stood silently and watched them flew to an elm tree which had a big hole. When one of them spotted us, it flew out again trying to lure us away from the nesting site. I loved the way they swagger about with their beaks full of feathers.
There is a bird who, by his coat
And by the hoarseness of his note,
Might be supposed a crow;
A great frequenter of the church,
Where, bishop-like, he finds a perch,
And dormitory too.
Above the steeple shines a plate,
That turns and turns, to indicate
From what point blows the weather.
Look up -- your brains begin to swim,
'Tis in the clouds -- that pleases him,
He chooses it the rather.
Fond of the speculative height,
Thither he wings his airy flight,
And thence securely sees
The bustle and the rareeshow,
That occupy mankind below,
Secure and at his ease.
~William Cowper, The Jackdaw~
We continued on towards the furthest end of the reserve passing through the swathes of flowering ramsons or wild garlic. We made a pit stop at the South Finger reed-bed to see if there were any grass snakes that were purported to be basking on the compost heap. We’d never seen any. Then a short rest at Van de Bovenkamp hide where a family of Mute Swans with 6 fluffy goslings were having a swim. I hoped they survived. Across the opposite end of the hide, a herd of English Longhorn cattle were basking in the hot sun. These animals were now very popular in reserves because they helped to keep the vegetation down. We’d a good laugh when one was scratching its back on the fence.
We then made our way to the Kingfisher hide. Again, it was very quiet. We didn’t stay long and made our way to the Wader shore but there was too many people in it. Along the path towards South Lake hide, we came across this pair of Swallows having a rest on the branch. We crept slowly and they were not bothered at all with our presence when we were literally below them. Perched on the branches, we could see the chestnut-red throat and forehead, dark chest-band and pinkish belly clearly. Their chattering warble of a song was a joy to hear. After the rest, they flew off with their ‘wit-wit’ call trailing behind them.
At South Lake Hide, the Black-headed gulls were very vocal with their high-pitched calls. They were also in a very quarrelsome mood, arguing over god-knows what. It was a world away from the flock of Black Tailed Godwits which were feeding on the lake. They were majestic waders with their long legs, long bill and russet summer plumage. We watched them probing the mudbanks for earthworms and aquatic insects. They were very distinctive when flying, with their bold white wing bar, large white area of rump and tail base and black terminal tail-band that gave them their name.
As I was scanning the islands that dotted the lake, I saw an Oystercatcher with a tiny fluffy chick. It was too far to photograph. We walked through the captive zones to see if any new species had been added. We didn’t see any but I came across this beautiful young girl hand-feeding the ducks. I just had to take her photograph. Bags of seeds were sold at the entrance for £1 and the birds were very well trained. As soon as they spotted someone holding a brown paper bag, they came running. We were always given the evil eye because we came empty-handed :-)
Apart from checking out our favourite playgrounds, I also took part in the CIG e-forum on RDA updates and developments at work. RDA or Resource Description and Access was launched in 2013 and my department was among the first to implement it in the UK. It was a very slow process at first but we persevered. Now, all original cataloguing were done in RDA. As it was a new standard for descriptive cataloguing, there were lots of shortcomings and there were still plenty of tweakings going on. Thankfully, one of my colleagues in Data Services kept abreast with the developments and updated us accordingly.
Finally, the Library did a Tombola to raise funds for the Nepal disaster. The Nepal earthquake, also known as the Gorkha earthquake, killed more than 8,800 people and injured more than 23,000. More than a quarter of the population were affected. It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake. A lot of unwanted gifts were donated to the table and there were hundreds. We couldn’t wait for it to start and it was very addictive too. Everytime, we spot someone trying their luck we’d to stop and see if they’d won anything. There was always a big cheer if they won something. I spent £5 and won 3. I got a notebook, a cheese grater and a talcum powder. Woo—hoo. In total we collected £250 for the fund. Well done guys.
“The force of Spring
powerful beyond measure”