‘March is a nervous month, neither winter nor spring and the winds make people nervous’.
~John Steinbeck, ‘East of Eden Diary’~
March was a notoriously fickle season, with sudden changes in temperature as the wind changes direction, a time of year when we experienced four seasons in one day. Strong winds and occasional rain heralded the arrival of spring, with a chilly, breezy wind and a few wintry showers. It was hard frost while waiting for the bus and gloriously sunny, with bright dry and prolonged sunny spells, though hazy in the afternoon as high cloud veiled the sky.
The first day of March was St. David’s Day, the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, and the date of his death in 589 AD. The feast had been regularly celebrated since the canonisation in the 12th century by Pope Callistus II. A pity it was not a national holiday in the UK. When we were in Wales, we lived in a very tiny stone cottage in a village called Llanon. The village was named after the church of Saint Non, the mother of St. David. According to the legend, St David was brought up in Llanon and every St David’s Day brought back wonderful memories of us living there.
Around the country, striking yellow swathes of daffodils brightened up the country as they awakened from the winter slumber. The daffodil was also the national flower of Wales and in Welsh, the daffodil was known as "Peter's Leek". Therefore on the 1st of March, Wales celebrated St David’s Day by wearing a leek or a daffodil. The connection between both emblems could lie in the Welsh pronunciation; leek in Welsh is ‘Cenhinen’- while daffodil in Welsh is ‘Cenhinen Pedr’.
Symbolizing rebirth and new beginnings, the daffodil was virtually synonymous with spring. Nothing marked the coming of spring quite like the daffodils. They were also known as Lent lilies because they bloomed in early spring and usually dropped before Easter. An interesting coincidence, since the first of March was also Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday which always falls on the day after Shrove Tuesday was the beginning of Lent, a six-week season of preparation for Easter. Lent was traditionally a time for fasting but many Christians now tend to give up different kinds of things such as chocolate, sweets, alcohol or a bad habit. The season of repentance lasted for 40 days and took place in memory of Jesus, who was said to have fasted for 40 days in the desert.
We started the month with a visit to the city centre because I needed to make an appointment with the optician. Then we nipped over to the Coventry Transport Museum. It was opened in 1980, after it became clear that the road transport collection was outgrowing the space it occupied in the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. The Museum’s current collection of vehicles was acknowledged as being one of the finest in the world, and the largest in public ownership. The first exhibits were acquired in 1937 when Samuel Bartleet gifted the City of Coventry his own private collection of cycles. The first motor cars were added to the collection in 1952, and the collection continued to grow ever since.
When we were there, the entrance was buzzing. On Millennium Place outside the Museum, the Cars & Coffee Breakfast Club was on. It was a free event for classic car and motorcycle owners to show off their cars directly in front of the prestigious Museum, as well as meeting other vehicle owners for a chat over coffee. This was the first event of the year which launched the season in style with a fabulous display of Street Vans, Hot Rods and Custom Cars on Millennium Place to complement the Hot Rods & Kool Kustoms exhibition. It was a good opportunity for us to check some very cool street vans with over-the-top interiors. We saw fluffy bright pink and leopard skin interiors!! Very kinky indeed.!
When we stepped into the museum, the first place we checked out was the Biffa Award Land Speed Record Exhibition at Coventry Transport Museum, where we came face to face with both ThrustSSC and Thrust2. The possibility of driving the fastest car on earth had gripped the imaginations of many since the first land speed record was set in 1898. Back then, the top speed achieved was just under 40 miles per hour (mph). Today, it stood at over 760mph – faster than the speed of sound.
Richard Noble was the driving force behind the last two land speed records. In 1983, his car Thrust2 reached a top speed of 633.468mph, beating the existing record by 11mph and making him the fastest man on earth. For his next record attempt, he had the idea of building a supersonic car, and the concept of ThrustSSC was born. Noble decided that he wanted to manage the project, but not drive the car, so he held a competition to find a new driver which Wing Commander Andy D Green won. On the 15th October 1997, ThrustSSC set a new land speed record and broke the sound barrier with a speed of 763mph.
In July 2016, it was reported that Green will attempt to break his own World Land Speed Record with Bloodhound to match or exceed 1K mph in October 2017. The Project had sufficient funding pledged to complete the car and start the countdown to high speed testing at the Hakskeen Pan, Northern Cape in South Africa. Bloodhound SSC will be reassembled and transported to Newquay Aerohub for tie-down tests with its EJ200 jet and Nammo rocket system in place. The jet was used by Rolls-Royce to develop the production engines for the Eurofighter Typhoon.
We then checked out the rest of the exhibitions starting with the top floor where we learnt about the last 150 years of Coventry’s history have been shaped, in part, by the rise and fall of its motor and cycle industries. In this time, around 475 bicycle and tricycle makers, 161 car manufacturers and 116 motorcycle manufacturers have operated in the city, touching the lives of millions of people.
The Museum traced the paths of these industries through massive social change and momentous world events. It told a fascinating story of the city, its inhabitants and their phenomenal achievements from the very first bicycles to world record-breaking cars. We browsed through the collection which consisted of 300 cycles, 120 motorcycles and 250 cars and commercial vehicles and over a million archive and ephemera items and classed into different sections.
Life's like a road that you travel on
When there's one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind
There's a world outside every darkened door
Life is a highway
I want to ride it all night long
If you're going my way
I want to drive it all night long
Through all these cities and all these towns
It's in my blood and it's all around
I love you know like I loved you then
This is the road and these are the hands
There's no load I can't hold
Road so rough, this I know
I'll be there when the light comes in
Tell 'em we're survivors
Life is a highway
I want to ride it all night long
If you're going my way
I want to drive it all night long
~Life Is A Highway' by Tom Cochrane~
We also checked out the current exhibition, Hot Rods & Kool Customs.
With the cars taking centre stage, the exhibition showcased a line-up of icons from the American and British hot rod and custom car scene, all equipped with eye catching designs, thunderous engines and compelling histories. Bringing with them the sights and sounds of 50s Americana, there were the classic ‘32 Ford Roadster and the ‘57 Ford Pop as well as examples of low-slung customs and cool chopped designs from the 30s, 40s and 50s. We weren’t that impressed when we’d already seen some amazing ones at Santa Pod.
We later made our first trip of the month to our favourite playground. The first stop was at Baldwin Hide. On the water, Tufted ducks were feeding by diving for molluscs, aquatic insects and some plants. Another diving duck, a male Common Goldeneye swam past adding a bright note to the winter days with its radiant amber eye, glistening green-black head, and crisp black-and-white body and wings.
A graceful Great Crested Grebe with its ornate head plumes drifted past leisurely and joined the party. It often dived down for fish, insects and invertebrates, chasing them underwater by strongly swimming with its feet. This is why it required plenty of open water for its underwater chases. Suddenly, a Cormorant pops out of the water in front of us with a huge fish in its mouth. The fish was already positioned with fins back for a final plummet down its gullet. What a magnificent fishing machine.
We then walked to East Marsh Hide. Common Teals were dabbling along the mud-banks. The males were looking handsome with their chestnut coloured heads and broad green eye-patches. In the shallow waters, Shelducks were foraging for small invertebrates by upending and dabbling. The single male Goosander swam past looking striking with a clean white body, dark green head and a slender, serrated red bill.
We scanned the banks opposite the hide if we could spot the Snipes. They were there so well camouflaged, blending in well with the reeds. They were mottled brown skulking wading birds with short legs and elongated bills. The bills were used to probe for invertebrates in the soft ground using the touch-sensitive sensory pits at the tip. We’d fun counting them because more and more started to emerge from the background.
We didn’t check the rest of the hides because we wanted to nip over to Ashlawn Cutting. As we walked down the very muddy zig-zag path, we spotted more clumps of snowdrops were emerging from the undergrowth. They were a welcome sight towards the end of the winter months. We stopped under the Ashlawn Bridge and there was still one clump of spawn that we saw last week. The boys were still AWOL!!!!
Then it was that time of year again where another candle was added to my cake. It was a very big cake Since it was mid-week, I took a few days off to celebrate. My colleagues gave me cards and all were of cute animals and birds. They knew me so well. Babe gave me a beautiful Regatta coat and a lovely bronze rocking Robin. Thank you and God bless.
We went to Slimbridge WWT to celebrate my birthday. When we left, it was 12.5C, the warmest day of the year, so far, because it was my birthday. We wanted to say our goodbyes to the Bewick’s Swans as they started their 2.5K mile migration back to their breeding grounds in the Russian arctic. But, we were too late as they’d taken the fleeting windows of calm and south-westerly winds to fly off. All the Pintails had departed too. We were sorry not to see them off but we wished them well on their long journey and hoped to see them again next year. We’d to be content with this captive beauty enjoying a bath.
We headed straight to Rushy Hide. The sun was out and the Black-headed gulls were taking the chance to fan their tails and make some noise. They were very vocal birds with their harsh ‘kree-aaa’ screech-like calls. But this don’t seem to stop the Shelducks from having a siesta. We scanned the area for the American Wigeon look-a-like which was actually a Chiloe x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid. He was feeding in the middle of the island which was a bit far for a good photograph.
We then nipped over to Martin Smith Hide which was empty both in and out. We continued to Robbie Garnett Hide and spent nearly an hour here. It was White-Fronted Geese galore. These European species that winter here were from the Baltic/North Sea population which bred in European Arctic Russia and northwest Siberia.They were named from the white patch around the base of its bill.
According to the sightings, there were at least 162 grazing on the field. They fed on the marsh grasses, aquatic plants and insects. They were building up to the final departure which involved resting, last minute feeding and various practice runs. They needed to be in good shape to survive the long journey that will take them through 11 countries over a period of up to 10 weeks.
We were excited when a few came over to a river for a drink and a wash. They were so close that bold black bars on the belly were visible, and so too the orange legs and bills. They were colloquially called ‘specklebelly’ in North America due to the salt-and-pepper markings on the breast. They also earned the title of ‘laughing goose’ from the high-pitched ‘yelping’ or ‘yapping’ calls, which was more canine than avian.
As they were splashing away, a pair was mating. What!!! I think they couldn’t wait to get back to their homeland to breed. A long-lived bird, they maintained permanent pair bonds and provided extended bi-parental care to their young, often into the next breeding season and beyond. They were solitary breeders and nest on both tidal flats and upland areas, among tall grass and sedges bordering sloughs and marshes.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~Mary Oliver ’Wild Geese~
I was quite reluctant to leave the hide but we have to move on. We walked through the boardwalk and straight to South Lake. It was buzzing here. The wader scrape and duck marsh were the main focus of activities. Several male lapwings were performing display flights over breeding territories in which they climbed steeply upwards before tumbling down close to the ground. But their shrill calls didn’t seem to disturb the sleeping Black-tailed Godwits.
The distinctively-patterned black and white Avocets with their up-curved beaks were busy weeding in the shallow water at the edge of the lagoon. In clear water, they fed by sight, picking prey from the water surface or mud. In poor visibility and when locating prey from within the sediments, they foraged by touch, sweeping their long bills from side to side through water or loose sediment.
A pair of Ruffs were feeding along the edge of the causeway directly in front of the Discovery Hide. We watched them made their way towards us, foraging on the soft mud, probing or searching for sight. They were still in their winter colours with dark back feathers edged with ochre on the upperparts, giving them a scaly affect. These were migratory species and soon they will be off to breed in the wetlands in colder regions of northern Eurasia. After being spoilt by what we saw, we called it a day.
My birthday week continued with a trip to Bradgate Park. As soon as we entered the park, the boys were out and about, grazing under the trees. The rutting season was long gone and the bucks were either on their own or in bachelor groups. Groups of adult males and females, usually with young, remained apart for most of the year, only coming together to breed.
Looking out the window
there was movement on the edge
the edge of the fog of the morning
Three deer stood, intent,
refined, reserved, particular deer.
~Raymond A. Foss ‘Deer in the yard’~
We continued on and saw the devastations in the aftermath of Storm Doris. We came across a huge cedar tree that had been blown down. In fact, the Park was closed down due to the high winds when the storm moved across the UK which brought gusts of up to 94 mph. We heard that the storm had caused a number of issued with several ancient trees coming down in the gale. Some of these gnarled old oaks in the park were over 500 years old.
We headed towards the River Lin that ran through the Lower Park. We heard a delightful, melodious trilling and saw a Grey wagtail perched on a rock. The long tail was wagging continuously and assisted its agility while flying in pursuit of insects. Apart from the midges and ants which they found alongside the river, they also took water snails and tadpoles from the shallow water.
A familiar delightful liquid twittering and calls caught our attention. We looked around and saw a flock of Goldfinches feeding on the ground. They were highly coloured finches with bright, red faces and yellow wing patches. They were seldom seen feeding on the ground as they tend to feed on various tree seeds, such as alder and birch and also from teasels and thistle. I think they were feeding on the tree seeds that had fallen to the ground.
We walked up to the field and sat down on the bench. Small herds of deer were ‘lying up’, ruminating between feeding bouts under the shade of the trees. A pity Lady Jane’s ruins were closed. Then it was a slow walk back to the car where I spotted a Nuthatch descending head-first, climbing up, down and around a tree-trunk and branches using its powerful toes.
I ended my birthday celebration with a tip to our favourite playground and it was also St. Patrick’s Day. Woo…hoo double celebration. Small clumps of Primroses still in buds, were popping out along the path towards Baldwin Hide. We spent sometime watching the thatched fences that flanked the boardwalk. Babe had seen the Tree-creeper bringing nesting materials. The pair had been nesting on the fence for years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t around today.
Tree-creepers were mottled brown above and mainly white below with long, slender, down-curved bills. They had still tails used as support when climbing, and large feet with sharp, arched claws. Their bills were curved and sharp, for extracting insect food and seeds from crevices in tree bark. A local West Country name was the ‘tree mouse’ which suited them perfectly.
There was nothing much outside Baldwin Hide so we trooped over to East Marsh Hide. A lone male Pintail was having his final swim before flying back to Iceland and Scandinavia. A pair of Oystercatcher flew in with their distinctive and shrill piping ‘kleep, kleep’ calls. It was lovely watching them establishing their territory by running together side, by side calling loudly.
We left soon after that and walked through the woods. More Scarlet Elf Cups were popping along the path especially near the sides of ditches and stream banks. Also known as Red Cups, Moss Cups and Fairies’ Baths, they grew on decaying sticks and branches. We also walked past these sulphur tuft mushrooms growing out of a tree stump in the middle of the woods. These beauties were common woodland mushroom.
I had a wonderful time celebrating my birthday. I felt so blessed. The final icing on the cake was when these beauties flew over to sing me happy birthday in their high tinkling twitter. They were very messy eaters and a lot of the nyger seeds had fallen onto the ground. I dreaded to think how much money I have wasted in discarded seeds. But since they brought us so much joy so c’est la vie. Soon there will be more non-stop singing when they began nest-building.