One of my favourite places to sit and have lunch was under these large drooping clusters of flowering Wisteria arches at the Social Sciences building. The fragrant bluish-violet flowers were to die for and provided a feast for the senses. These were Wisteria floribunda bearing leaves and flowers at the same time and had stems that twined clockwise. It had the longest racemes and was shown to best effect on these pergolas and arches where the racemes hung free, unimpeded by branches or foliage. At their peak, their long colourful cascades of flower was stunning and almost everyone who saw them, moi included, would like one for the garden.
The only problem was that they were aggressive grower and heavy. The vines worked their way into any crook or cranny they could reach and as long lived plants growing up to 9 metres, required significant support and therefore requiring a large garden. It also formed very strong, woody roots and hard to remove once established. As we were renting, this was not viable. But thankfully, I have these growing just round the corner of my office.
Wisterias were deciduous, twinning climbers native to China, Japan and the eastern United States. After a long summer, they formed pendant, beanlike seedpods. Since the vines and trees bloomed in spring and early summer, it was a potent symbol of new life. I took these photographs early in the morning, as soon as I arrive for work to avoid the flowers being photobombed. During office hours, this walkway was a human highway with throngs of students and staff walking past. I really hoped that they would stop and admire these quintessential blooms.
CC and I finally were able to find a date for dinner. We last met in January when we met up with our former colleagues. Our dinner date was supposed to be a monthly event but both of us had been so busy that we just couldn’t find the date. Other personal problems like health and family were also in the way. Ramadan was also round the corner. CC had picked another new restaurant, YipinBashu, situated on Fairfax Street, outside Pool Meadow bus station. She picked this because she noticed only the Chinese were regulars which was a sign for good cuisines. The whole time we were there, we were the only outsidersAlthough the menu was written in Chinese, there was some translated into English and with the help of the friendly waitress, we managed to choose the dishes. We’d jasmine rice with sizzling seafood platter, Mongolian style beef and fried lotus root, all washed down with cups of steaming loose Chinese tea.
While tucking into the meal, we checked out the deco. It was very simple and practical. Would we come again? I don’t think so. For something so simple, it was quite expensive. We weren’t too keen on the fried lotus root and the Mongolian beef was too watery and salty. The menu written in Chinese was also a put-off. But we’d a good time catching up, sharing news and updating each other with what we’d been up to. Then it was time to go our separate ways. We found it hilarious that the bus stop had been moved again and we’d to ask a few people where it was. It was so funny when we found out that the temporary bus-stop was just a few doors from the restaurant. Typical…
Friendship is …. catching up over good food and something nice to drink.
We celebrated the wedding of Prince Henry to Megan Markle with a visit to Slimbridge. We left the casa at 10.52 am on a bright, sunny morning with the mercury reaching 20.6 C.When we arrived at the Reserve, we were greeted by this giant 5 foot tall colourful ‘Haring Through the seasons’ hare. This year the Trust was hosting a hare as part of the Cotswold AONB Hare Trail. In its 5th year, the Cotswold Hare Trail had partnered with the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) which included 130 hare sculptures waiting to be discovered all over the Cotswold which took place until September the 9th.
Designed by illustrator, Sarah Vonthron-Laver, this hare vibrantly depicted the Cotswold landscape in each season. The location and designs of the rest of the hares explored the themes of ‘living landscapes’, to promote sustainable tourism and environmental conservation throughout the area. The Hare trail first started as the Cirencester March Hare festival celebrating the town’s link with the famous Roman Hare mosaic in the Corinium Museum in 2013. How I wish we lived closer so that we could checked out all 130 colourful hares.
As soon as we walked out of the visitor centre, we immediately zoomed onto the stony island on Swan Lake. Last year, the Oystercatcher family had 2 chicks and because they tend to nest at the same site, we expected them to be there. And we weren’t disappointed. At first, we couldn’t see it as the chick was perfectly camouflaged among the rocks. When one of its parents flew in with its piping calls, it stood up and came running to the parent. There was only a single downy chick, following its parent for food. Earthworms and insect larvae were on the menu.
Then off to Rushy Hide where we saw Sedge still on incubation duties on the lower pond island. The incubation period was around 30 days and was done primarily by the female. The nest were constructed from dead vegetation, such as reeds, bulrushes and rushes. From time to time, she gracefully stretched her long neck to pick a pebble or a stick and redecorate her domain. We were hoping to see Monty flying in but not today. I guess he was busy feeding on the tack piece or mud-flats. The Common Cranes were omnivorous. They ate largely plant matter, but animal matter were important during the summer breeding season for regurgitating to their young.
The Common Crane was a large, stately bird and was between 100-130 cm long with a 180-240 cm wingspan, slate-grey overall. The forehead and lores were blackish with a bare red crown and a white streak extending from behind the eyes to the upper back. The overall colour was darkest on the back and rump and palest on the breast and wings. The primaries, the tips of secondaries, the alula, the tip of the tail, and the edges of upper tail coverts were all black and the greater coverts droop into explosive plumes.
Unfortunately, the Crane was sharing its nest among the very territorial and aggressive Shelducks and Avocets. When it stood up to stretch its legs and rolled the eggs, a Shelduck flew towards it because the imposing height was seen as a threat. It was dive-bombing and quacking its head off. Thankfully, Sedge was able to duck away from the aggressive behaviour. Her first egg was laid on 29th April and the second, the next day. Male and female cranes took turns to incubate of about 2-4 hours during the daylight hours. The females do most of incubating during the night while the males stood guard. The parents made purring noise to the eggs while gently rolling them to insure a proper embryo development.
The reason for the Shelduck’s aggressive behaviour was due to these adorable black-and-white mint humbugs. A pair were parents to at least a dozen or so ducklings. Actually, we gave up counting because they somehow blended and multiplied at the same time. Shelducks formed strong pair bonds and were highly territorial and quarrelsome. Female Shelducks chose a nest-site and a typical clutch contained 8-10 eggs, but there might be more where another female had dumped some eggs into the nest. The female incubated alone, for about 30 days, with the male avoided the nest for this time, but when the ducklings hatched, he returned to guard his delightful-plumaged babies and his mate.
In their natural environment, most Shelducks often desert their ducklings at a young age, leaving them in creches with just one or two adults to look after them. The ducklings were nidifugous and able to feed themselves within hours after hatching. With such a huge brood, the parents took wing uttering quacks to the youngsters which dived underwater with skill. Although the young dived freely, the adults only did so when wounded or frightened. Both ‘chosen’ parents guarded their ducklings for 55-65 days until they were able to fly.
Nearby, the quarrelsome. noisy Black Headed Gulls were up to their usual antics. They were screaming high-pitched ‘karr’ or ‘kreeay’ while picking sticks from an abandoned nest and carrying them to the island near the camera shop. They must be thinking of having a second brood. Nest-building took part in pair formation once the nest-site was chosen by both mates. Their territorial defence were strong and the pair spent most of the day on its territory. The female laid 1-3 eggs and incubation lasted about 22-26 days, shared by both parents.
On the main island, a juvenile Black Headed Gull was demanding to be fed, uttering ‘kek-kek’ continuously. It was pecking on its parent’s beak begging for food. The juvenile had buff to darker brown markings on the upperparts and upperwing coverts with the tail showing black terminal band. It will gradually gain the adults’ grey coloured wings over the space of two years.
We were chuffed to bits when the long-staying hybrid swam past the hide. This was the closest that we’d seen it. The hybrid, a Chloe X Eurasian Wigeon was stunning with its green blue iridescent green band from the eye to the back of the head, shimmering in the bright afternoon sun. The steep forehead and bulbous rear was very prominent. He and his partner, a female Wigeon, were busy surface feeding, dabbling for aquatic plants, grasses and roots.
Then we went to Martin Smith hide and was greeted by this family of Mute Swans swimming along the waterway with seven adorable cygnets. They were kept save by their protective parents with Dad swimming ahead and Mum keeping an eye at the back. The cygnets were dingy brown and whitish below. They grew quickly, reaching a size close to their adult size in approximately three months after hatching.They fed on a wide range of vegetation, both submerged aquatic plants and by grazing on land. The cygnets were especially vocal, and communicated through a variety of whistling and chirping sounds when contend. If they were distressed or lost, they emitted a harsh squawking noise.
There was nothing much else on the tack piece that we didn’t bother checking out the rest of the hides. We walked back into the grounds through the boardwalk. There was another family of Moorhen busy feeding. Moorhen chicks which looked like the ugliest little balls of ‘black fluff’ with bald heads were following their parents, paddling frantically after them. Moorhen fed their chicks with algae, insects larvae, worms and aquatic plants.
We spent some time at the South Lake hide because there were plenty of going on. Close to the hide, at least a dozen Black tailed Godwits were feeding on the mudflats. There were hundreds feeding at the further end of the lake. A sociable bird, they formed large flocks when feeding, probing the mud with their bill for invertebrate preys. During spring and summer, the adults had greyish backs, white bellies and brick-orange heads, necks and chests. We were very lucky to see them here as they were rare breeding birds in the UK that had suffered from dramatic declines.
Also on the mudflats, were the distinctively-patterned black and white wader with a neat black cap and a long up-curved beak. It was busy wading and sweeping its beak back and forth to catch aquatic insects and their larvae, crustaceans and worms that made up their diet. Approaching the deeper end, it swam readily and buoyantly, constantly up-ending like ducks. The Avocet was a very vocal bird, frequently giving a loud call which gave rise to the onomatopoeic Dutch name for the bird, kluut.
We were chuffed to bits to be entertained with the courting behaviour of a pair of Common Terns. Courtship feeding was frequently seen in their breeding behaviour. In an effort to lure the female to its territory in the nesting area, the male carried a fish around the breeding colony and displayed it to prospective mates. He teased the female with the fish, not parting with his offering until she’d displayed to him sufficiently. Unfortunately, the female wasn’t interested and flew off, leaving the male still with the fish dangling from its beak. Hopefully, he would find a mate soon.
The birds shrug off the slant air,
they plunge into the sea and vanish
under the glassy edges of the water,
and then come back, as white as snow,
shaking the little silver fish,
crying out in their own language,
voices like rough bells--
it's wonderful and it happens whenever
the tide starts its gushing
journey back, every morning or afternoon.
~Mary Oliver ‘The Terns’~
We didn’t stay long after that and made our way to the car. We made a pit stop at Rushy Hide to see if Monty was around but he still hadn’t turned up. Sage was having a siesta under the hot afternoon sun, keeping her eggs snug and safe. In the car, we’d a quick lunch of cheese and onion pasties washed down with steaming coffee from the thermos. We wanted to hit the road before the FA cup final between Manchester United and Chelsea. It was a full-on day in the UK because in the morning the women enjoyed the Royal Wedding and in the evening, football for the men. We reached home just in time for the match to start. Eden Hazard penalty brought the Emirates FA Cup for Chelsea.
We also checked out a Steampunk Festival at the Coventry Transport Museum. I was intrigued by this subgenre and wanted to check what it was about. When we arrived, the organisers were just setting things up. There were a few bits and bobs about and we gave them a glance over. While waiting for things to happen, we went into the Museum to kill some time. Inside, there were stalls selling Steampunk, gothic and neo-Victorian memorabilia. They should have these outside where the public could see them, have a poke around and thus adding some vibes to quite a sombre festival.
Steampunk was a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporated technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Although its literary origins were sometimes associated with the cyberpunk genre, steampunk works were often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a future during which steam power had maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly used steam power.
Steampunk also referred to any of the artistic styles, clothing fashions, or subcultures that had developed from the aesthetics of steampunk fiction, Victorian-era fiction, art nouveau design, and films from the mid-20th century. Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical "steampunk" style, and a number of visual and musical artists had been described as steampunk. This was what was mainly displayed during the festival. About 50 people were all dressed up and swaying to the music of the era, while the rest just looked on.
We left the Steampunk era and headed to a world which we were more in tune with. At our favourite playground, we headed straight to Baldwin Hide where we encountered at least half-dozen dragonflies nymphs or naiads crawling out of the water, preparing to join the world above the water. They slowly clamber up the wall where they latched to hard surface to molt one last time. There were a few on the window and even on the ceiling. It was magical. Dragonflies undergo incomplete, or hemimetabolous metamorphosis, so they moved from egg to nymph to adult with no pupal stage. It was a challenge to take photographs in the dark hide that we decided to kidnap one and watched it at home.
We carefully put one in a specimen container which I always carry with me and drove straight home. We took it in the shady part of the garden and watched it clambered up the fence and latched itself to a surface where it was comfortable. This appeared to be a laborious process as the adult dragonfly was just about to burst out of an exoskeleton that was much too small and the nymph practically dragged its body up the fence. A nymph breathe through gills inside its rectum which propelled it forward.
Eventually, the dragonfly the exoskeleton broke open along the thorax and begins to spill out of the hole. The head was extracted first.
The dragonfly began to drag its soft, squishy body out of the nymphal exoskeleton. It started bending its body over backwards, using gravity to help pull its head and thorax down to extract its abdomen.
Eventually it rested on for a while, pumping haemolymph into its wings to extend them fully and and stretched them all the way out. We watched in awe as the body began extending, getting longer and longer.
All insects shed all of their exoskeleton when they molt, which included the exoskeleton-lined respiratory system.
The little white strings hanging out of that shed exoskeleton was the shed respiratory system.
At this point, it had dried its wings sufficiently to move them out to its sides, holding them in the manner characteristic of dragonflies.
Then it climbed up to the top of the fence. We held our breath and waited, There was a slight breeze. It tested the winds with its wings and flew off, ready to spend its short live and leaving its old life behind. We were sad to see it go and a bit apprehensive. This newly emerged dragonfly, referred as a teneral adult, was soft bodied and pale, and highly venerable to predators. But the Common Darter zoomed off confidently. We’d seen dragonflies flying in and out of our garden which meant there was a pond nearby. Down the road, there was also little brook where it could hang around.
It had been an amazing process. Babe also videoed the whole sequence and it took us nearly 2 hours from nymph to an adult. We’d just witnessed Mother Nature at her best.
To celebrate, we made falafel to break our fast. It was a traditional Middle Eastern snack that most likely originated in Egypt. It was yummy and very crispy. I must remember to bake it for 20 minutes the next time.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 x 400g can chickpeas
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp mixed herbs
- 1 lemon, zest grated
- salt and black pepper
- 2 tbsp tahini
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a small pan. Fry onion over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and fry for a further two minutes and remove from the heat.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the sautéed onion and garlic and crush together with a potato masher until the mixture is broken down.
Add cumin, mixed herbs, tahini and lemon zest and mix well. Taste, season, and mix together.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Divide the mixture into 16 walnut-sized balls and place on a non-stick baking tray. Rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
Remove the falafel from the fridge, drizzle with the remaining oil and bake for 25 minutes, or until crisp and golden-brown. Turn occasionally to ensure even cooking.