“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring moons, and sunsets smeared with too much colour.”
Things seemed to slow down a bit when August hits because it was the month when the heat of the summer seemed to be in its zenith. People walked without hurry, trying to conserve energy. Pasturing cows seek the shade of the trees which border their pastures, sleepily chewing their cud. The shadows were also lengthening a little earlier these days.
Gladiolus the birth flower for the month of August was blooming beautifully in the front garden. They represented remembrance, calm, integrity and infatuation. When offered as a gift, it meant ‘love at first sight’ and the lucky recipient’s heart was being ‘pierced with love’. How romantic…. but not in ancient Rome where gladiator battles were fought ‘to the death or gladioli’ where the victor was buried under gladioli by cheering crowds in celebration for winning the fight. It was from here that the flowers were known as the ‘sword lilies’ and referred to as the flowers of the gladiators. I think I’m going to plant more of these next year because they looked stunning.
August was also the month to look up into the night sky. The Perseids made their annual appearance as the Earth passed through debris shed by the comet Swift-Tuttle. The streaks in the sky, known as shooting stars, were grain of dust and ice shed by the comet that entered the atmosphere at 60 km per second, As they hit the atmosphere, friction caused them to burn up as they heated the air around them, causing the trails seen from the ground. The meteor shower named after the constellation Perseus, as when viewed from the ground the shower seemed to come from a focal point, known as the radiant, in the constellation.
We were up most nights in the cold waiting for for the hotly-anticipated shower to light up the sky. Unfortunately, we lived in one of the most light-polluted region in the country surrounded by brightly-lit motorways. We didn’t see hundreds of shooting stars but we did see a few which made our nights worthwhile. We also followed the International Space Station which orbited the earth every 90 minutes and it never failed to appear as it was the brightest thing in the sky. Our necks complained from being used but it was worth it.
We started the month with a trip to one of our favourite playground, Bradgate Park. As usual, we weren’t alone. It was still the school holidays and the sun had come out to play bringing families and children and dogs out to enjoy the day. The place was buzzing but the natives weren’t enjoying the heat and the flies. They spent most of their time hunkering among the tall grasses, ‘lying up’ in the shade. They were lying down to ruminate between feeding bouts.
We took our photographs from a safe distance so that we don’t disturb them. But there were many who came so close to take photographs and even selfies with the deer behind them. We nearly blew our head off when we saw this mother taking her young son with her to pose with the deer. Just look where she was sitting with her baby on her lap. There were at least a dozen male deer lazing about around her. Check those antlers out. These antlers started growing in the Spring and grew at a rate of 2.5 cm a day. The soft covering, known as velvet, protected the growing bone and shed in time for the Autumn rut. It will just take something to spook these boys up and they will start charging at anything. We hurriedly moved on.
We walked straight to Lady Jane’s ruins passing a wedding photo-shoot, picnicking families, dogs running and children playing football. It was lovely seeing people enjoying themselves in the open. As we got closer to the ruins, we spotted a young Kestrel swooping down onto the ground and flew back to the wall empty-handed. We crept closer and closer watching and photographing its hunting behaviour. We were so close that we could see the piercing eyes looking intently on the ground. It flew down again but still missed. Unfortunately, a couple of kids running, scared it away.
In the ruins, we headed towards the top where we knew a herd of deer were about. The cries of the Green woodpecker echoed around us. But we were distracted by a small, noisy flock of birds flying and landing on the ground. We crept very slowly and from behind the fences, we spotted a charm of Goldfinches having a party among the thistles. It was lovely listening to their pleasant rambling twitterings and tinklings as they communicated with each other.
After taking our fill, we checked out the herd that were feeding among the bracken. We were so quiet that Babe literally stepped on a fox having a snooze among the tall grasses. Don’t know who was more shocked :-0 . Unfortunately, there were no photographs as the fox quickly disappeared among the thick bracken. We walked among the anthills and spotted the family of peacocks. The chicks had grown up quite quickly too.
Then it was time to head back to the car. The heat was getting to us and a pit stop at the ice-cream vendor helped cool us down. We arrived right on time because a long queue had formed behind while I was waiting to be served. We enjoyed our ice-cream while making our way through the crowds which were still pouring in. By the entrance, a herd of deer were vowing the crowd and off course, we just had to take a few more photographs.
We also made our final visit to Bempton Cliffs for this year. Along the route, the fields that were yellow with rapeseed flowers in May had gradually turned brown. I loved seeing them turning different colours as the seasons rolled. The crops had already been harvested and only the stubble remained and in a few more days of sun, the last few hints of green will turn to gold . The wheat ears swayed in the breeze. Bales of hay arranged in different shapes were waiting to be collected.
We headed straight to New Roll-up The weather conditions were ideal for a close encounter with the seabirds. When the winds hit the high, chalky cliffs, it produced an updraft which the Gannets steered into and just hung in the air. We also spotted Linnets with their undulating flights, twittering happily as they flew and landed on the bare patches of the cliffs. The males were attractively marked with crimsons forehead and breasts. They were busy picking insects from the exposed soil. It was lovely to see them because they had become a Red listed species due to the changes in farming practices.
At Staple Newk, we saw Gannets with chicks that only hatched a few weeks ago, all the way to chicks that were now ready to leave. It was absolutely packed and lovely to see the different stages of growth throughout their 12 weeks on the nest. There were white fluffy balls, white powder puff, mottled older chicks and slate-plumed juveniles. On hatching, they were near-naked and brooded for the first 5 days. Then covered in soft, white down on the black skin. As months passed, they eventually shed the soft covering and sprout their first flight feathers which were black.
Chicks lose their down feathers during the second and third month as they developed the speckled plumage of the juvenile stage. When leaving the nest, they were almost completely covered in dark feathers. Over the next several years, their plumage gradually changed to white. When you see a Gannet with more black, the younger it was. It was not until they were 5 years old that their plumage was that of an adult with their orange, pink and creamy head. These cuties still had a very long way to go. The chicks shed their covering in a pattern which led Babe to affectionately named the stages from ‘cotton bud’ to ‘balaclava’ :-)
We watched from the viewpoint as the parents hovered above the rocks before making a perfect landing in their square metre of nesting real estate. We were hoping to see the food being regurgitated to their chicks. From time to time, their cackling calls could be heard. The parents fed their off-springs for 11-12 weeks After the breeding season, the adults dispersed and fly southwards for the winter.
~The White birds by William Butler Yeats~
Then we walked back towards the visitor centre. A few butterflies were spotted fluttering along the cliff-top and nature trail. The Peacocks were showing really well along with the Red Admirals, Large White, Green veined White, Small tortoiseshells and Small whites. There were plenty of Bird’s foot trefoil, Red campions and thistles growing on the cliff-top fields providing them with plenty of food. The grassland area was carefully managed as nesting sites for farmland bird species like the skylarks and meadow pipits and as habitats for insects.
At the Grandstand, a few visitors were asking the RSPB volunteer if there were any puffins about. He said he hadn’t seen any when Babe spotted one popping out of the crevices of the cliff and flew straight into the sea. After a few minutes of checking out the sea below us, he spotted it bobbing up and down in the water. These ‘clowns among seabirds’ spent the autumn and winter in the open ocean of the cold northern seas. At sea, they swam on the surface and fed mainly on small fish, which they caught by diving underwater, using their wings for propulsion.
We spotted a Kittiwake chick with its black-neck collar and dark zig-zag pattern on the upper wings on one of the ledges below us. Unlike other gull chicks, it remained fairly immobile. This kept them safe on their precipitous nest site. These young birds were always facing the cliff walls. As they were always on the nest , there was no special parental food call and the parents recognised the nest but not the chicks. Young birds had the distinctive bold black ‘W’ pattern on their wings during flight. We really missed the spring chorus of the distinctive ‘kitt-wayke’ from thousands of these birds echoing from the cliff-face.
This was the first time we came here at the end of the birding season.The tree sparrows were no longer nesting on the roof and were lounging around the bird-feeders and bushes. Their chirpings were quite deafening at times. It was strange watching the cliffs go from full capacity in June to almost empty. Guillemot were now wintering southwards and seawards while the Razorbills were spending their time out to sea, swimming in ‘rafts’ bobbing up and down the swell. It was very quiet and even the aroma was subdued:-).
“I stand on the cliff an gaze out across the ocean to the end of the earth, where the water dissolves into the sky and eternity is veiled in a mysterious blue mist. The breeze is as soft as a whisper and there is something timeless above the way it blows, as if it is the very breath of God calling me home”
Another lovely sunny day and we made another trip to Draycote Water. Again, we were not alone. The car-park was full that we’d to park in the overflow. Then another obstacle when none of the parking meters were working. Aargh … we’d to walk to the visitor centre, put our car’s registration number down and then went back to the car to put a note on the dash-board that the machine was broken. Not a good start on such a hot day, walking up and down. I’d forgotten whether we paid for the parking….
As usual, it was very quiet in the birding front. The fishermen in their boats were fishing very close to the shore pushing the waders away into the middle of the reservoir. But I don’t think they were safe for long because a huge group of yacht enthusiasts were practising and sharpening their skills there. Since it was quite a huge lake (600 acres), the birds would be able to find a quiet place to feed or swim. Unfortunately, they were too far away for Babe to walk.
As we walked along the embankment, we noticed army trucks and tanks on top of lorries, parked near the farmhouse which was opposite the reservoir. Off course we took the opportunity to take a few photographs. Then we noticed a huge display board on top of an old tank in the field advertising for the Tanks, Trucks and Firepower Show which was on the August bank holiday. The 3 day event featured tanks, armoured vehicles from after WW2, military motorbikes, sniper displays, car crash demonstrations and plenty of explosions. I’m sure the show will go out with a bang :-)
We spotted at least a dozen Pied Wagtails with their looping flight and descending glide on the rocks. A Great Crested Grebe made an appearance but was soon driven further away from the shore by the fishermen’s boat. I gave up walking on the pavement and walked along the meadows which was void of meadow flowers. Why did the authorities cut them so soon??? Along the fringes, I was mesmerised by the numbers of butterflies flapping lazily. Among them were the White veined white, Skipper and finally a Common Blue which I was so chuffed to photograph. Then it was time to head home.
As we drove on the road, we saw huge clouds of dust in the fields and noticed a harvester working. Woo …hoo. We’d to turn back to park on a lay-by. I stayed in the car while Babe walked towards the field to photograph the machines. I loved watching these huge agricultural machines at work. They were really amazing machines. The harvesting season had already started and the farmers were very busy. The meadows and grain crops were being gathered in. The saying ‘Make hay whilst the sun shine’ was so appropriate. How fast time flies in these glorious summer weeks.
We also took the opportunity to check out Airbase, a living aviation museum in Coventry and home to over 30 vintage planes. It was actually ‘ a safari park of old aeroplanes’ winged masterpieces. The museum was an off-shoot of Air Atlantique's operation at Coventry Airport and featured the largest fleet of post-World War II classic aircraft in Europe. Many were unique and extremely rare. They represented jet and piston-engined aircraft, which include fighters, bombers, trainers and various types of liaison aircraft. These weren’t museum pieces, standing polished, preserved but dead, behind roped barriers. Around Coventry, when we hear the gravel rasp of a vintage engine or the whine of an early jet, we always looked up and we always see these classic wings silhouetted against the Warwickshire skies.
The Classic Aircraft Trust was established in 2012 to form the basis of a lasting and sustainable organisation, with the aim of preserving a unique collection of airworthy aircraft of the UK’s post-war era. These aircraft were previously owned by Air Atlantique and was now operating as Classic Air Force. The aim of the Trust was to preserve this unique part of British industrial and aviation heritage and to keep these aircraft in working condition. They sustained and maintained the skills required by yesterday’s technology and kept historically important aircraft flying for tomorrow’s generations to enjoy. These aircraft were also available for displays, flypast and air-shows all over the UK and around the world.
We browsed, photographed, climbed aboard and posed among the static displays on the grounds. And then, we checked the amazing indoor display which included a Canberra jet bomber which set the world altitude record of 71,000ft back in 1957, several Dragon Rapides, the workhorse of domestic air routes in the 1930s and 1940s, and the oldest twin-engined jet aircraft still flying, a Gloster Meteor T7. We treaded carefully around the working hangar among the oil spill, parts of old aeroplanes and the smell of fresh paint. As the aircraft needed preserving, there were skilled workers who stitched and doped fabric surfaces, overhauled a radial engine or landed a Dragon Rapide in a crosswind.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
— John Gillespie Magee, Jr
On one of the hottest day of the month, we and thousand of others made our way to Wales. It was so busy on the road that we missed a turn and drove on the A5 to Oswestry. It was much longer but very scenic. We then drove on the B4396 through a pretty village with black and white timber buildings called Knockin. We’d a good laugh when we spotted a shop called The Knockin’ Shop. We must stop here next time just to get a photograph. Then we tailed miles of traffic on the A458 until Machynlleth. Because of the traffic, we went straight to Nanty-yr-Arian.
As it was still the school holidays, the place was buzzing. After using the facilities, we went straight to the bird-feeder. Siskins, Tree sparrows, Chaffinches and Blue tits were taking turns on the feeder. The Siskins were attractive birds with their intricate pattern of black and yellow on the wings and tail. I loved watching the parent feeding its chick which had more spots and streaks. Siskins were quite acrobatic as they fed on the feeder. Their calls were thin and high, with a peculiar yodelling and ‘dluee’ notes at the end.
“They fed on the alder and looked beautiful, hanging like little parrots, picking at the drooping seeds of that tree’
Then it was time to join the crowd as they made their way down to Barcud trail. We noticed that the water level on the lake was so low that a few islands popped up. Mallards were having siestas and Pied-wagtails were chasing after flies. While waiting for the show to begin, I scanned the water near me and spotted these Damselflies having a rest on the stick, folding their wings along the length of their abdomen. I loved the way they perched, all facing the same way. A few pairs were seen flying together over the lake and eggs were laid within suitable plants, just below the surface.
Then it was piece de resistance. Hundreds were circling above us, flying magnificently with buoyant wing action, soaring gracefully with their long, broad wings deeply forked tails. Their high-pitched mewing calls were echoing around us. At 2 pm, the ranger scattered pieces of meat on the ground and unfortunately he didn’t throw any into the lake. But, when a few birds started diving to the ground with their talons stretched out to snatch the meat, the dogs started barking and barking. This spooked the birds and they refused to come down.
A few of the photographers gave the owners some dirty looks as birds and dogs don’t mixed. I think there must be a notice to inform visitors not to bring their dogs down during the feeding times. They and their dogs could watch the spectacle from the parking lot or outside the visitor centre. This reserve was for everyone but for just an hour during feeding times, the birds and also visitors who come to observe and photograph them should be able to do so peacefully. We’d seen this so many times and it does put us off but since we love this part of the world so much, we just bear and grin it.
After about half an hour, a few birds managed to swoop down for the food but they were far in between. So we gave up. We drove straight to Aberystwyth and parked at Tanybwich beach at the furthest south end of the town. The beach sand and shingle beach was overlooked by the imposing Iron Age hill fort built in 400 BC and Pen Dinas with its prominent memorial in the shape of an upturned canon that commemorated Duke of Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. There were sightings of dolphins in the Cardigan Bay from here and we were hoping to see one. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the memo to turn up.
We scanned the rocks below us and spotted a flock of Rock Pipits. They were very easy to miss, with their inconspicuous greys, olives and buffs blending with the seaweed as they hopped, walked and ran foraging for food among the rocks and boulders and along the shore-line. Sometimes, they launched into the air, uttering their loud and tuneful songs before parachuting to perch on a few prominent rocks. In South Wales, they were known to the fishermen as ‘Rock lark’.
I walked to the breakwater lighthouse and watched the waves beating on the sea defence. The views of Aberystwyth town centre was absolutely stunning with the Cliff Railways in the background and the castle ruins in the foreground. The shingle bank at the back of the beach was now a nature reserve and was part of the coastal path. I walked along the River Ystwyth towards the reserve which still carried elevated levels of lead, zinc and silver in its water, mostly due to seepage from abandoned mine tailings and discharges from mine adits. I didn’t walked far and had to turn back because the path was littered with dog s__t. Yuck!!!
We drove into the city centre and found a parking space outside the Old College. Babe stayed in the car while I went out to buy something for lunch. Having fish and chips by the pier had become a tradition for us. It was lovely watching the world go by under the watchful eyes of a pair of gulls who were watching us (and our food) with great interest. We never feed any of the birds because this will only encourage them to get close to humans and led to their aggressive behaviour that was often touted in the news. As soon as we finished, I carefully packed away the boxes and put them in the bin with the two following me. Shooo…
Then we drove over to one of our favourite places in the world, Llanon, a very tiny village along the A487. It was where we lived in a very tiny old stone cottage with a fireplace for nearly 5 years. We didn’t drop by our old place just because we want to keep those memories and not see how much it had changed. Instead we drove straight to the very stony beach where a newly-wed was posing for photographs. When we lived here, we used to bring our jeep and drove it along the stony beach. It was soo much fun.
Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You'll find what you need to furnish it - memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey.
Then it was time to head home, I was hoping to see the sunsets but it was still very early. We stopped at this well known landmark, on the A487 overlooking Llanrhystud. Cofiwch Dryweryn or ‘Remember Tryweryn’ was a reference to the Welsh village near Bala that was flooded in 1965 to provide water for Liverpool. It was painted by Dr Meic Stephens, a writer and critic. The slogan was painted as a reminder to the people of Wales of ‘the treachery and suffering, the anger, the agony and the disruption that took place when the Liverpool Corporation were given the go-ahead against public opinion in Wales to drown Tryweryn, without paying a penny for it’!!! Quite poignant to stand in front of it and think of the story behind it.
Apart from trekking up and down the country, I added another skill to my portfolio. I am now uploading content on to a digital collection management system known as CONTENTdm. It consisted of a server on which content was stored and a web-based content discovery interface. It provided a means of making a wide variety of media types such as images, journals, books, maps, newspapers, audio and video files accessible for search and display.These digitised resources from the library and the Modern Record Centres were part of the Warwick Digital Collections. It was a challenge learning something new but I am up for it.
I also joined a yoga class during my lunch break every Wednesday at the PG Hub. It was part of the Health and Wellbeing activities and work-life balance. It was mostly for students but staff were allowed to join in too. The tutor was a very flexible yogi who was a breath of fresh air. Yoga was an ancient form of exercise that focused on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost the physical and mental well-being. It don’t look strenuous, but the stretching and breathing does make you breathless. The best part was when we were laying down to recover, she went round and gave each one of us either a foot or neck massage. Bliss. And before, we left she offered us raw vegan chocolate balls to gain back our energy. Yum…yum.
On Wednesday evening too, I registered for a cooking class with the Cook and Eat Well, a project funded by Public Health Coventry and delivered by Groundwork West Midlands in partnership with the Community Health Learning Foundation. It was a free 9 week healthy cooking course which centred around developing cooking skills, healthy eating and cooking from scratch. It was held at the Ribbon Court in Foleshill at 6 pm which was a pain. I finished work at 5.30 pm and had to dash across the city centre and often arrived at about 6.20 pm. Thankfully, theories were delivered in the first hour and the cooking only started at 7pm. There were 10 of us from all walks of life. I am really looking forward to better my cooking skills and off course, make new friends too.
CC and I also checked out the first live seafood restaurant in Birmingham which was creating a storm in the foodie world. Manchester Seafood was part fishmonger, part restaurant, with tanks at the front in which live fish, crabs, lobsters and eels lurked blissfully unaware that they will be on someone’s plate. We walked straight in, down a corridor and found ourselves in an Oriental-ish restaurant. 60’s pop music were playing in the background which was a shame for a Chinese restaurant. As usual, we asked for a pot of Chinese tea and it came with tea leaves floating in it. That was bonus points from me.
After perusing the extensive menu for nearly 20 minutes, we placed our orders. We’d the fried brown crab with vermicelli, sauteed prawns Szechuan style and fried tung chou (a Chinese spinach) with fresh garlic in fermented bean curd sauce. And off course bowls of steamed rice. The crab wasn’t for the faint-hearted as we need quite a few surgical tools:-) to get at the meat. The prawns were yummy but the vegetables let us down because the sauce was a bit too fermenty. Sorry no photographs because we were too busy eating. The place began to fill up as we were about to leave. Would I come again? Not too sure. The food wasn’t that amazing and the ambiance was lacking somewhere. We ate the food because we were hungry and we’d ordered them. It didn’t make me swoon. But at least I’d checked this place out. Maybe, I’ll return in a year’s time…maybe.
Meanwhile, in the garden front, the vegetable beds looked a bit tired. But not the flowers. Fuschia, Rudbeckia, Hydragena, Dahlia and Borage were the last arrivals to the summer ball. The roses were still going strong. The last of the season’s pollinators, including small tortoiseshells, red admirals, peacock. small whites and speckled wood feasted on the nectar and pollen before hibernating or flying south for the winter. The bird cherry tree which had white, lightly scented flowers in spring were now laden with small, glossy black, bitter berries and all the birds in the neighbourhood were there. The pavement were covered with splattered purple from the fallen berries.
“A late summer garden has a tranquility found no other time of the year”