I started July, the seventh month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendar with 2 weeks being sick!!! Not a good start. My throat was very raw and dry and there was a troll in there with a very soft brush tickling my trachea. I was coughing and coughing and coughing that I couldn’t sleep at all. It also felt like someone had released a herd of cows in the night to trample over me. It was that bad and I was soooo tired.
After 6 days, I made an emergency appointment to see the doctor. After a thorough check-up, I was diagnosed with acute tracheitis. Tracheitis was the inflammation of the windpipe due to a bacterial infection. The main symptom of the disease was dry cough and a crowing sound when inhaling. There was pain in the chest during the fits of non-stop coughing and I bet I woke up the whole neighbourhood.
A very strong liquid antibiotics that tasted so foul was prescribed. For 2 weeks, I slept downstairs on Babe’s reclining chair. I hated enforced bed rest. Chosen bed rest or laziness was different. To make matter worse, that was also the week the landlord finally managed to find an electrician to install a new boiler. AAAAAARgh….There were 3 burly guys messing about in the kitchen and I dreaded thinking of the mess they left behind.
“Don’t estimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering”
~Pooh’s Little Instruction Book~
Thankfully, I’d Wimbledon and the EURO 2016 to keep me company and sane. During the day, I was tuned to the tennis. We celebrated Wimbledon again as Murray won the title for the 2nd time, with a superb display of returns to blunt the lightning-fast serves of Raonic from Canada, who was playing his first Grand Slam final. Raonic had defeated the Swiss legend, Federer in 5 sets to reach the final. Murray who lost the Australian Open and Roland Garros in the final had bounced back to win the Gentleman’s Wimbledon title and delighted a nation.
Serena Williams won the Ladies’ singles defeating the German fourth-seeded Kerber to secure her 7th Wimbledon title and 22nd major, equalling the open era record of Steffi Graf. Later, she and Venus, who had Sjogren’s Syndrom, won the Ladies doubles. Serena who like Murray had also lost the Australian Open and Roland Garros in the finals. It proved that you should never give up, ever.
There were a few inspirational and unforgettable moments like when Marcus Willis from Warwickshire, ranked 772, won his 1st round match against a player ranked 54th in the world, Berankis of Lithuania. It was the world’s number 3, Federer, who ended his incredible run in the mother of all David and Goliath confrontation. Another was when big-serving American Querry knocked out the former champion Djokovic to break his phenomenal run of winning all 4 grand slams in a row.
At night was the Euro 2016 which came to an end with Portugal as its surprised champions. It rankled that a team could win just one game in 90 minutes and was crowned the champions. The win over France 1:0 was a continuation of one of the big trends of the tournaments as the odds were upset at Euro 2016 again and again. The tournament was one where reactive, cautious football and counter-attacking had ushered in a new era of defensive mentalities keeping the match tight and unspectacular. It was sooo boring.
There were a few inspirational and unforgettable moments too. Reaching the semi-finals was a task thought to be beyond Coleman’s side but with Bale scoring in every group and Coleman’s smart tactics of a 3-man defence, Wales made an impact. Their stunning comeback win over Belgium in Lille, winning the quarter-final 3:1, was one of the best performances when Robson-Kanu’s astonishing Cruyff turn and finish.
And there was Iceland, the smallest country at the Championship, shocked the world by making the quarter-finals and the win that got them there was by defeating England 2:1 in the last-16. Putting aside country loyalty, there was something very funny about tiny Iceland knocking out the country which invented the game, with the highest paid players and coach. The Icelandic thunderclap was the signature cultural note of the whole tournament which later became the centre-piece of the celebrations. Huh! Huh! Huh!…Huuuuuuuu…..h!!!
Poland was my office sweepstake team. They left the tournament undefeated but for penalties and with the added regret of having gone ahead against Portugal in their quarterfinal. If only their star player Lewandowski had shown up in top form, they could have become champions and made me £100 richer . The good news was that there were plenty more to come for Nawalka’s crew.
I was also very chuffed when a Jay flew in to say hello and helped himself to the fat balls. Every year, the pair flew in to breed and nest in a little holding near our casa. Although they were the most colourful member of the crow family, Jays were quite difficult to see. They were shy and silent woodland birds, rarely moving far from cover. When it finally spotted me, it gave a loud screeching call and flew away with its distinctive flash of white on the rump.
For the past month, since midnight June 6th, Muslims around the world refrained from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset in a show of spiritual devotion. Thirty days later and with the sighting of the new moon, the festival of Eid al-Fitr was being celebrated across the globe with Muslims filling up mosques, reciting the takbir, a declaration of faith and performing special congregational prayers in their new clothes and later enjoying special delicacies as a show of thanksgiving. I was not in any mood to prepare a feast to celebrate the new moon and the month of Syawal. Instead, I made bread, following the easiest simplest recipe in the world. It was so yummy and we finished the whole loaf with lashings of butter. Bonn Appetit.
200g self raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Juice of half a lemon
Squeeze the juice of half a lemon, or 2 teaspoons bottled lemon juice, into the milk. Stand to one side to allow it to sour.
Weight the flour and add the bicarbonate of soda, and mix through.
Make a well in the centre of the flour mix, and pour most of the milk-and-lemon in. Mix well with a wooden spoon to form a sticky dough. Use your judgement, if it looks dry, add the remaining liquid.
Tip onto a floured work surface and pat into a round shape, kneading lightly. The trick is not to fiddle with it too much.
Pop it into a loaf tin, score it across the top in three places, and place in a 180C oven for 40 minutes. It should sound hollow on the bottom when tapped, and feel ridiculously light.
Break into chunks and serve warm with butter, or allow to cool completely and wrap in cling film to keep fresh.
After 2 weeks of getting stuck in the house with the occasional trip to the supermarkets for fresh fruits and vegetables, we stretched our legs and breathe in some fresh air at our favourite playground. Babe had been popping here a few times while I was ill and had taken taken some amazing photographs of the natives. As usual, they refused to come out and play while I was there. He took a photograph of this adorable Barn owl from Ted Jury Hide.
When we walked through the visitor centre porch, we felt a dozen eyes following us under the eaves. When we looked up, there were these adorable Swallow chicks all huddled up at the end of their nest waiting to be fed. As soon as they sensed one of the parents flying in, all we could hear were begging cries for soliciting food from their parents. We could clearly see the bright orange in their mouth as they excitedly vocalizing. The parents don’t feed the chicks individually but instead a bolus of food comprising a hundred insects.
Once fledged, the youngsters received in-flight food from their parents for up to a week. They fed them and led them back to the nest at night to roost. By two weeks after they’d left the nest, they chicks left the area, visiting other colonies. Swallows were summer visitors, arriving from late March to mid-May and soon will return to their southern African wintering grounds in September and October.
We walked straight to Steely Hide where Babe had taken these amazing shots of a Hobby feeding on a dragon-fly. Hobbies were the only falcon that spent the winter months south of the Sahara Desert. The first returning Hobbies were seen during the last few days of March, with spring migration peaking between mid-April and mid-May.
They were fast and agile, recognisable in flight by their long swept back wings, square tipped tail and speedy hunting tactics. Long-winged, and with their black ‘moustache’ and smart red ‘trousers’, these distinctive birds were incredibly agile and specialised in hunting acrobatic aerial preys like dragon flies, swifts, swallows, martins and bats. They spent much of their time in high soaring flight almost out of sight before plummeting earthward with closed wings at a great speed.
Again, it failed to turn up. We waited and waited and except for a Heron hunting among the reed-beds and a Common Tern flying in and out again, the place was very quiet. It was mid-summer and we’d entered the period termed as the birding conundrums. That time when any remaining passage migration tailed off as the birds settled at their nesting grounds to get down to business. They were still raising their young and not being very vocal because they no longer need to attract a mate or defend a territory.
We walked back through the woods when we came across this family of Mute Swans taking their gangly juveniles for a walk. I was very pleased to see all 6 had survived and soon will grown into adults. We walked behind them as they walked in a straight line with Dad in front and Mum at the back, keeping them safe. Soon, they would be driven off the breeding territory as soon as their plumage was predominantly white during late autumn or winter. Although, some might accompany their parents to the wintering area, and joined a large flock in which they remained when the parents returned to their breeding territory. Young birds won’t breed for the first two years of adult life.
We continued on towards Baldwin Hide where we came across a Red Admiral basking in the sun. I am so glad to spot it as it not many butterflies were fluttering about. This large black butterfly with a flash of vivid orange-red across its forewings and around the edge of its rear wings and a splatter of white spots towards its wing-tips should be a common sight during mid-late summer.
At Baldwin Hide, we watched the Common Tern taking position on both the pontoons. They were delightful silvery-grey and white birds with long tails that earned them the nickname ‘sea-swallow’. They had buoyant, graceful flight and was often seen hovering over the lake before plunging down for a fish. They were often noisy, always bickering among themselves.
The downy chicks were dark spotted buff above and white below with a mostly pink bill and legs. They spent a lot of time under the shelters where they were protected from the Gulls and also as shade for sunny days. They don’t start to fly until 21 days of age and were often seen hopping around their enclosure while waiting for their parents to return with food. It was quite a feat to watch these tiny chicks swallowing the fishes whole.
Then a pair of Oyster-Catchers flew in and settled by the island closest to the hide. These were large black and white wading birds, with long, orange red bills and reddish-pink legs, When they were in flight, they’d an obvious white-wing stripe, a black tail and a white rump that extended as a V between the wings. Then they took to the air with a supersonic blast of furious piping circling the reserve . They were very striking flyers with their black and white markings standing out.
We left when dark clouds were starting to get closer and closer. When I walked under the visitor centre’s porch again, I noticed another set of chicks creeping out from under the eaves looking quite solemn. How I didn’t notice when we walked in was a mystery to me as they were just opposite the Swallow chicks which we spotted earlier. They were Blackbird chicks as one of the parent flew in with a beakful of food. All you could hear were the chicks cries begging to be fed.
We’d been checking the weather forecast for a warm, sunny day to pay our respects to the emperor at Femryn Woods. Fermyn Woods were ancient woodland which contained semi-natural oak and ash woods which were managed as coppices for centuries. But we were here not for the woods but for the most magnificent butterfly, the enigmatic Purple Emperor, the second largest in Britain.
When we arrived, we’d to squeeze among a dozen cars that were parked along the road, such was the allure of His Majesty. We chatted to a few visitors who told us that they’d seen the butterfly and that we were a bit late. What???? It seemed that to see them on the ground required an early start as they came down to feed on the minerals, especially soon after emergence, before settling in the tree tops in the afternoons. I felt like bawling my eyes out.
Thankfully, my attention was diverted to another beauty, the White Admiral. A spectacular woodland species and was a delight to behold as it literally glided along the forest rides, flying from tree to forest floor and back up with only a few effortless wing beats. When it settled down and was nectaring on the Bramble, the black uppersides intersected by prominent white bars were very prominent. The undersides was in complete contrast to the black-and-white uppersides, sky blue near the body, with a dark red/brown and white band corresponding to the upper wing pattern and was really one of the most beautiful butterfly found in the British Isles.
They benefitted from the cessation of coppicing, that had been detrimental to so many woodland butterflies and this species required Honeysuckle growing in shady woodland for the successful development of its larvae. They were fairly shade-tolerant, flying in dappled sunlight to lay eggs on the Honeysuckle. We moved on when it flew off. We followed the bridle path but didn’t walk far because we didn’t want to loose sight of the car. This place was quite secluded and was notorious for break-ins.
Then we drove to the nearby Femryn Wood Country Park which was situated in the heart of the Rockingham Forest. We wanted to check out a small clearing that the last time we were here was literally covered with butterflies. We couldn’t believe when it was eerily empty and only saw a battered Red Admiral, a Gatekeeper and a Five-spot Burnet with a broken wing.
It had been a disaster year for butterflies. A deadly combination of a sunless summer, cool spring and mild winter had made 2016 the worst year for butterflies since records began. The wet summer, too, had led to one of the worst population crash. Torrential rain had disrupted their breeding season which stopped them flying, mating and laying eggs. They lived for only a couple of weeks, and during that time had to find food and a mate and laid their eggs. But in wet weather, they spent the whole period sheltering under the leaves.
We walked through a myriad of landscapes such as woodlands, meadows, thickets, marshes and ponds. It was a huge 15 hectares park which was impossible for us to cover, especially when the walking trails were not properly sign-posted. We explored the long, open rides and twisting enclosed trails. It was humid and hot and the woodland felt subdued, languid and drowsy in the muggy afternoon that we decided to call it a day.
But, our search for butterflies carried on. We made another trip to Draycote Meadows hoping to see more. We drove through the countryside flanked by fields of burnished gold. The summer sunshine was ripening the crops in the fields and it was a beautiful sight as we drove past fields of golden grains waving in the breeze. When we parked by the gate, the view that greeted us was stunning.
The meadow was simply bursting with colour and buzzing with insects. Wildflower meadow could only be described as one of summer spectaculars. There were Knapweed, Ox-Eye Daisy, Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Yarrow, Lady’s bedstraw, Harebell, Meadow buttercup, Yellow rattle, Ribworth plantain, etc. It was a kaleidoscope of colour, While the flowers were the visual stars of the show, there were a multitude of insects that use them for the nectar and pollen.
We scanned the field and spotted a few dozen butterflies fluttering about. Grasshoppers and Bush-crickets were chirping signals to each other, advertising their presence and providing the background hum of the meadow. As we walked through the main path, dozens of butterflies fluttered up from the long grasses and tall flowers and among them was the Marbled White.
Despite its name, the Marbled White was more closely related to the subfamily known as the ‘browns’ than the ‘whites’. This medium-sized butterfly was an attractive black and white butterfly and showed a marked preference for purple flowers such as Wild Majoram, Field Scabious and thistles. They were often seen roosting halfway down tall grass stems. The adults emerged in the 2nd half of June, reaching a peak in mid-July. There was one generation each year.
The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly
~Ponce Denis Ecouchard Lebrun~
We continued on to the end of the path trying to photograph as many butterflies as possible. But the sun was out and they were very active flying about, flirting from flower to flower, feeding on the nectar and refusing to pose. A pair of whites were up in the air, spiralling higher into the sky in a courtship flight before performing a mating dance.
The green grass and the happy skies
court the fluttering butterflies
There were plentiful of Meadow Browns among the grassy habitats and around the field margins, flying low over the vegetation. Unlike the other butterflies which remained inactive, they were often seen flying even in dull weather and when its spotting with rain. Like other grassland butterflies, they don’t form breeding colonies on roadside verges or other grassy areas if they were regularly mown as this reduced the number of grass species and removing vital nectar sources.This is why they were abundant in this ancient meadow. We didn’t stay long cos the heat was really unbearable.
After nearly nearly 2 months, I finally managed to take advantage of my prize of a meal for 2 from Warwick Retail. I sent a photograph of a very happy smiley frog taken by Babe to a competition which they’d organised and was chuffed to bits when it won. Due to the fasting month and me being off sick, I couldn’t collect my prize. We popped over to Bar Fusion and had our lunch there. As usual, I ordered my favourite Thali meal while Babe had fried chicken balls with curry sauce and chips. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Thank you, Warwick Retail.
When I was ill, I received a text from my colleague, RSC, saying that she’d tended in her resignation. I was quite sad to see her go but I understood her reasons why. She’d 2 young boys to look after and she also had a new software business to run. My colleagues and I organised a few do’s and among them was a team breakfast at the Library Cafe. We enjoyed a long, leisurely breakfast to start the day with lots of laughter.
Babe and I ended the month with a visit to Bradgate Park. It had been a lovely day and we knew that the car-park was going to be full. Thankfully, as soon as we entered the car-park, a car was reversing to leave. Perfect timing. The place was very busy and the two overflow car-parks were already nearly full. When we drove in, there was a cricket match in the nearly field. We walked there first because Babe wanted to take a few photographs.
After taking hundreds of photographs, we made our way back into the park. The natives were scattered here and there, looking relaxed checking the visitors who were checking them out. The Trust had introduced a seasonal dogs on lead restriction zone in the busiest area of the Park which came to force from 1st of June. The new rules will be combined with new powers to hand out fines for all bylaw breaches. Finally, we thought.
We continued on and was distracted by this family of Mute Swans with 5 fluffy cygnets cruising the River Lin that flowed through the lower park. They were very popular with the visitors and had bread and seeds thrown to them in the river, swallowing them with the water. Swans weren’t greedy, unlike the ducks and the gulls, and only ate what they needed.
I noticed quite a few Pokemon hunters around. Ancient monuments, castles and stately homes were known habitats for rare and legendary Pokemon. They were gathering together to go hunting because by sticking together, they would have more eyes on potential specimens to add to their Pokedex. Good luck to all of them but I’m more interested in photographing and checking out the real things.
We came across a herd of Fallow deer having a siesta among the tall grasses in between families having picnics and playing games. They were so well camouflaged that the only way we noticed them was when their palmate antlers stood out. They were so chilled out that we could hear one of them snoring!!! It was hilarious. Most of them were ‘lying up’, where they laid down to ruminate between feeding bouts.
One without looks in tonight
Through the curtain-chink
From the sheet of glistening white;
One without looks in tonight
As we sit and think
By the fender-brink.
We do not discern those eyes
Watching in the snow;
Lit by lamps of rosy dyes
We do not discern those eyes
Thomas Hardy ‘The Fallow deer at the Lonely House’
We spotted a large herd of deer feeding among the bracken by the hill side. While Babe walked ahead, I heard a sip sip sip call when I accidently flushed a small brown streaky bird. It suddenly flew up with a jerky flight and landed on a fence that was circling an archaeological dig. I crept closer and was delighted to see that it was a Meadow pipit. Their numbers had been declining since the mid-1970s, resulting them being included on the amber list of conservation concern.
By Lady Jane’s Grey ruins, we saw another herd of Fallow deer feeding contently among the bracken. As expected, some idiots wanted to get a selfie by getting too close and spooked them. They were running in all directions and came quite close to a women walking by pushing a buggy. I shouted at them that they (the idiots) were getting too close but they didn’t hear me. When they walked past me, Babe warned me not to say anything. If someone got hurt, I would send the photographs to the police.
In the ruins, we walked straight to the end of the enclosure where the resident deers were feeding. But we came across a familiar liquid twittering calls and songs and crept closer. A flock of Goldfinches were feeding on the thistles and teasels that were scattered in the ground. Their long fine beaks allowed them to extract the inaccessible seeds. Unfortunately, a group of children came running past and scared them away.
We then came across the family of Peafowl that were feeding among the ant-hills. My oh my… the peachicks were all grown up. Until they reached the age of one year, baby peacocks were referred to as peachicks. They were not born instinctively knowing how to eat, as ducklings and chicks, so they were taught closely by their parents. A group of these together was referred to as an ostentation or muster of peacocks, usually one male with up to 5 females. I think a few of the peachicks, especially the cock birds, will be rehomed.
Around us, there were the cries from the Green wood-peckers that fed on the ants. There were plenty of anthills in the grounds. Unfortunately, they were just too flighty today. The pond in the middle of the enclosure was full of damselflies basking and perching gregariously on the emergent pond plants. They perched delicately with their wings folded along the length of their abdomen.
We’d a simple picnic before the ruins closed for the day. We walked down towards the main path when we came across a wildflower meadow teeming with butterflies. Whoop…whoop. We spent nearly half an hour photographing these beautiful flying confettis. The camera could in no way captured the scene. There were Gatekeepers, Small Tortoise-shells, Skippers, Small Whites and Green –veined Whites flitting, darting and whirling around the vegetation. Nearly every flower head had its own dangling bee Simply amazing…
I've watched you now a full half-hour,
Self-poised upon that yellow flower;
And, little Butterfly! indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!
This plot of Orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my Sister's flowers;
Here rest your wings when they are weary;
Here lodge as in a sanctuary!
Come often to us, fear no wrong;
Sit near us on the bough!
We'll talk of sunshine and of song;
And summer days, when we were young;
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now.
~William Wordsworth ‘To a Butterfly’~
On the hills, we spotted a herd of Red deer feeding far away from the crowd. We wanted to get closer but the sight of this beautiful male Yellowhammer with its bright yellow head and underparts perched on top of the bush stopped us. I was hoping to hear its high-pitched song of ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’ but not today. I was delighted to see these birds thriving here as their recent population decline made it a Red List species.
Then it was time for a leisurely stroll back to the car. Minus the illness, July had been a fantastic month. Hot summers and lazy afternoons. I am just loving this summer heat wave we were having. We’d several really poor summers in a row, so these sunny warm weather was lovely to see. Summer crept in like a soft-footed pretty little maid, pirouetting in on slippers of gold. Tis the season of wildflower meadows, ice creams and berries with cream. The garden was filled to overflowing with fresh produce, flowers and butterflies. And the hedgehogs had been coming for dinner every night. Life was good.
The dawn laughs out on orient hills
And dances with the diamond rills;
Lucy Maud Montgomery ‘A Summer Day’