“The serene philosophy of the pink rose is steadying. Its fragrant, delicate petals open fully and are ready to fall, without regret or illusion, after only a day in the sun. It is so every summer. One can almost hear their pink, fragrant murmur as they settle down upon the grass : Summer, summer, it will always be summer.”
The UK continued to enjoy its longest heatwave with wall-to-wall sunshine. The Caribbean had arrived as thousands flocked to the beaches that turned into sun-soaked idylls. The Met Office had reported that Sunday, July 16 was the hottest day this year as the country was currently enjoying its 16th consecutive day of temperatures hitting over 28C. The heatwave was showing no signs of abating, with the Met Office even urging Britons to stay indoors with the temperatures continuing to soar. It was the country's longest heatwave since 1976 and the driest summer in 225 years. And it looked like it's going to get hotter. The heatwave was forecasted throughout July and August. Bookies had even slashed the odds on the UK enjoying—or suffering—the hottest day, as another blast of hot air from Spain, already dubbed the 'Mediterranean Melt' forced temperatures to rise over 30C. Summer was here to stay.
With the warm sun beating down, the garden was looking its best and I was spending a lot of the long lazy days outside. The first thing I did when I came home was to fling open the patio doors and opened all windows to bring the sunshine in. Dinner was something light, quick and easy. After a long day at work, I enjoyed having my dinner outside in my secret garden and with my feathered friends, also enjoying the glorious weather. Then reading until I couldn’t see the words. One of the best things about summer was being able to spend more time in the garden. A garden was an ideal place to escape the stresses and strains of life. It was an oasis of comfortable calm surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature.
I waited for the Swifts, arrowing through the skies like fighter jets at the tip of those ecstatic rasp-screams: ‘seeeeeeee-seeeeee-seeeee’. There were few things more incredible in nature than this herald of the British summer. At first, they drifted in the air as if in slow motion that I could make out each one’s profile: the stiff-winged, black anchor shape against the sky. Suddenly, these black boomerangs hurled down from the heavens, snapping up insects in balletic sweeps and dips. A single bolus of 20 to 30 swifts spiralled across the blue, hurling down their communal scream, swerving and twisting and suddenly splintering apart. Then they would all come together and resumed their crazy sky waltz.
Swifts were flying back from West Africa to breed in traditional nest sites, usually in the eaves of taller buildings. One of the last summer migrants to arrive, usually in early May, they were among the first to leave in late July, so time was short to appreciate these spectacular and mysterious birds. They were superb flyers that were almost completely adapted to an aerial life, feeding, sleeping and mating on the wing. They only needed to land to lay eggs and raised their young. It was a challenge to photograph them.
Then it was time to water the plants accompanied by the screaming Swifts overhead. With this prolonged heatwave, the garden needed to be watered daily. The Verbena bonariensis, French lavenders, Daisies, Crocosmia, raspberries and Globe Thistles were growing profusely and were filled with bees buzzing merrily. Our garden had been bees, bugs, grasshoppers and butterflies central. There was always something landing on these plants. It was a garden bursting with vitality with especially with the help of the widespread sunshine.
I’d divided and replanted the Crocosmia and the glowing orange flashes were doing well. The Verbena bonariensis was a prolific self-seeder and was very popular with the bees and butterflies. Also popular with pollinators, were the Eryngiums (sea holly), a herbaceous perennial that came in shades of steely blue and liked to bask in full sun. The French lavender never disappoint but the English lavender died during the heatwave. I must remember to replace them next spring. I was excited when we’d Cinnabar caterpillars on the Silver Ragwort which I think wasn’t their ideal plant food. To help them, I would bring stalks of the Common Ragwort for them to feed on.
Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.
For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You'll find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dung-pits and the tanks,
The rollers, carts, and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks.
And there you'll see the gardeners, the men and 'prentice boys
Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise ;
For, except when seeds are planted and we shout to scare the birds,
The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.
And some can pot begonias and some can bud a rose,
And some are hardly fit to trust with anything that grows ;
But they can roll and trim the lawns and sift the sand and loam,
For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come.
Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing:-" Oh, how beautiful," and sitting in the shade
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives.
There's not a pair of legs so thin, there's not a head so thick,
There's not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick
But it can find some needful job that's crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.
Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it's only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner In the Glory of the Garden.
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener's work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray
For the Glory of the Garden that it may not pass away!
And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away !
~Rudyard Kipling ‘The Glory of the Garden~
There were plants which I grew just because the pollinators loved them. Among them was the Bronze Fennel and they were self-seeding everywhere. Although edible, we found the taste and the black liquorish smell too strong. They popped up in spring after a winter’s rest and the ferny, purple brown foliage added height and elegance to any border. The yellow flowers in midsummer, full of hot scent were irresistible to bees and hoverflies.
Next was the Globe Artichoke. Even though it was considered a delicacy, I found out that eating and cooking was too much hassle and now left them to flower into stunning purple-blue thistle-like blooms. These flowers were then pollinated by honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies. I managed to divide and transplanted them all over the garden, adding a strong architectural element with their large, silvery green leaves and thick stems topped with pinecone-like flower buds. The best thing about them was that they were winter hardy and re-grew every year.
We also have different kinds of thistle running amok in the garden. If they happened to be in the middle of the garden, they will be weeded out but thankfully they tended to stick along the borders. Legend has it that the thorny thistle once saved Scotland from a marauding Norse army, a feat that earned this tenacious plant its status as the Scottish national symbol. But, this prickly beauty wasn’t able to stop another beauty from feeding on it. The long, slim beaks of the Goldfinches had evolved to enable them to be a specialist thistle feeder.
We watched them shook their beaks in the seed hole to widen the gap or loosen the seed. Then they started pulling the seed heads out. They were deft with their feet and wings to hold tight as the wind blew the teasels around. They’d short, stout legs to stablise and often used outstretched wings to balance counteract the buffeting of the winds. They gathered in charms, with bright red faces, biscuit-brown bodies and black wing bars, twittering away with pleasant tinkling sounds. I was also delighted that the Goldfinches had a ‘golden year’ in the 2018 RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch where sightings rose by 11%.
One of my favourite butterfly was the Painted Lady, a long distance migrant which was the most spectacular butterfly migration observed in the UK. They don’t hibernate here and instead migrated to and from Northern Africa. They bred here but emigrated back in the autumn as they couldn’t survived our winter. They’d a pale buffy-orange background colour to the upper wings. The underwing colouration and eyespots had amazing details which was visible from close quarters. I squealed with delight when I saw it resting on the sunflower.
On sunny days, they were very active feeding but as soon as the sun disappeared, individuals tended to leave the nectar source and find a bare patch of earth, stone or rock on which to bask and absorbed the heat with their wings spread wide open. I was delighted when it basked on the nearby wall. Unfortunately when basking or resting, it was more wary of any movement and quickly flew away. This was our first sighting of a Painted Lady in our garden and I hoped it will returned again.
We nipped out to our favourite playground but didn’t stay long. Birds seemed to be rather thin on the ground during these hot, sultry days. Back in April and May, the reserve was filled with birdsongs as a host of summer visitors joined with our resident species to create a riot of songs, colours and movement. Now, they were hiding away as they moulted their worn feathers after a busy time in the spring mating, nesting, feeding chicks and defending territories. They spent their time skulking at the bottom of the bushes. We saw these Marsh orchids on the way in.
We made a pit stop at Baldwin Hide and was delighted to see a family of Tufted ducks with a least half a dozen chicks. They looked so cute rafting together in a line, like little corks bobbing along the waves. Female Tufted ducks were less showy than the males, being dark brown with slightly paler sides. As with most species of ducks, the drake played no part in the incubation of the eggs or the rearing of the young ducklings. The young left the nest quite soon after the last egg had hatched and followed their mother everywhere. She brought them to safety under the overhanging trees and bushes.
We then headed straight to East Marsh Hide where we were greeted by a grating and persistent call ‘kri-kri-kri-kri’. We looked out and saw a Common Tern juvenile on a submerged piece of land to the left of the hide, begging for food from its parents . The immature bird had a similar appearance to the adult, except for a whiter forehead, speckled fore-crown and faint brown bars on the back. It will acquire the full adult plumage in its fourth year. When the parent flew off, it followed still screaming. We left and we could still hear it screaming, flying after its parent.
We’d to make a trip to Slimbridge WWT when we found out that a fledged Cuckoo chick was seen feeding out in the open. That was something we needed to see. We left the casa at 10.50 am and the mercury was already reaching 24.4C. It was going to be a very sunny and hot day. We headed straight to the walkway towards Willow Hide and spotted a crowd looking intently at the tree tops. We could hear screeching and saw shadows of birds flitting in and out. Unfortunately it was quite dark along the walkway and the chick was high in the willow canopy. The views were also obstructed by branches, twigs and leaves. From time to time, we managed to get a glimpse of the barred underparts of the chick.
The screeching returned when a pair of Reed Warblers flew in to feed the demanding chick. It was strange watching the tiny Warblers tearing around feeding the gargantuan interloper. The chick’s open mouth served as a sign stimulus. It was about 8 times the size of its foster parents. The poor parent almost disappeared in the wide-opened mouth of its adopted baby. It kept on making high pitched and persistent begging calls ‘tsi-tsi-tsi’ which sounded like a brood of hungry young. These cries were so stimulating to the unsuspecting host parents and encouraged them to bring as much food as they would to a brood of their own. It would still be supported by its poor foster parents for a further 2 weeks, before abandoning them to head to Africa. They flew alone presumably following an inborn flight program and guided on their incredible journey by the night skies and the Earth’s magnetic field.
Cuckoos were summer visitors and well-known parasites. In May, the blue-grey male arrived on our shores from Africa and boomed out his distinctive ribald whooping ‘cuc-coo’, the calls heralding the welcome arrival of spring. After establishing himself to the slightly browner female, nature took its course and the female’s work began. She laid her eggs in the nests of other bird, especially Meadow pipits, Dunnocks and Reed Warblers. A female Cuckoo could lay many eggs in a season than most birds because she don’t have to build a nest or care for her eggs and young. The adults flew back to Africa as soon as the breeding season was over, as early as the second half of June. Within hours of hatching, the blind and naked chick pushed any remaining eggs from the nest. Alone in the nest, it now had the sole attention of its foster parents, who darted around to feed it, leaving them no time to breed again for the entire season. After 19 days, the Cuckoo was bursting from its nest and fledged but still being fed by its parents.
After nearly 2 hours of straining our necks and eyes, we took a short break by checking the rest of the hides. Unfortunately, the Tack piece was empty and the fields were very dry due to the hot weather. Even the cattle was taking shade under the trees. We checked the Cuckoo chick again and it had gone deeper into the trees. The screeching calls were still audible. We’d enough and when we walked past the Martin Smith hide, we came across the latest addition to the giant LEGO brick animal trail. The 2018 trail included 3 newly created animals to be discovered as visitors wandered around the reserve. We might do it in next visit.
We spent the rest of the day at Rushy Hide and was greeted by an Oystercatcher family with well grown youngsters on the causeway. The juveniles resembled the adults but had brownish-black upperparts, grey legs, duller eye-ring and a dark tip to the bill. The adults looked after their chicks for much longer than other waders and were the only British wader where the adults fed their chicks, mostly on earthworms. In winter, they would be flying to the coast where they were truly the bird of tidal estuaries and rocky shores.
In the middle of the lagoon were Avocets with at least 2 different broods. Although Avocets only rear one brood a year, they will re-nest if they lose eggs or young. Several broods of fluffy Tufted ducklings and black-and-white mint humbugs ‘shelducklings’ of varying sizes were foraging along the edge of the lower pond. They were diving and upending for larvae and pupae often found under rocks as well as aquatic animals, plant materials, seeds, small fishes , snails and crabs. Lots of newly fledged Black Headed gulls were learning to be quarrelsome and noisy birds. The scrape was also alive with hatching midges, the larvae of which provided food for all these waders and ducks.
Later in the week, we drove to Coventry Airport to check out one of showcase of the 100 years of the Royal Air Force. The event celebrated the centenary of the RAF as one of the series of ‘RAF 100’ events taking place across the UK to commemorate and inspire the next generation. RAF100 was the celebration of 100 years of the first independent air force in the world which ws being celebrated by the Royal Air Force across the United Kingdom. This was an occasion to highlight Coventry’s long history with the RAF and its past manufacturing plants which produced aircraft for the service from the early 1900’s to the early 1970’s.
Coventry Airport hosted a nine-piece aircraft display, included a Meteor flanked by two venoms at the western end of the terminal. We wandered in the sunshine among the Armstrong Whitworth Meteor NF.11, Hunting Percival Jet Provost T.3, Dehavilland Venom FB.4, Dehavilland Vampire T.11 and T. 55, Percival Proctor V, Douglas DC3 Dakota, Avro Shackleton AEW.2, Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR.1, Scottish Aviation Bulldog T.1 and British Aircraft Corporation Percival Jet Provost T.3. Unfortunately, not many people turned up but we still had a fantastic time photographing and posing with these beauties.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
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...
~John Gilliespie Magee, Jr. ‘High Flight~
Then we headed to the city centre to see the rest of the showcase. Broadgate was buzzing as the crowd checked out a number of military vehicles, static displays, stands, exhibitions and displays connected with the RAF. A special-edition red, white and blue RAF100 Aston Martin, RAF100 vehicles manned by military personnel, an RAF Regiment Display, the University of Birmingham Air Squadron, the RAF STEM team and RAF recruitment officers also drew in the crowds.The highlight was a BAE Systems Hawk aircraft positioned in front of the Lady Godiva statue. The queue was snaking as they waited to take turns to sit in the aircraft cockpit.
We were hoping to spend a few hours here so that we could watch the flyover by a Dakota from the Battle of Britain’s Memorial Flight at 3.20pm. It would be amazing to see it flying low over the Coventry Cathedral. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else to see and we don’t fancy standing in the sun for another 2 hours that we decided to head home. Fortunately, at around 3.30 pm, we heard the rumbling sound of an aeroplane over our casa. We rushed out and saw the Dakota circling the city centre a few times. We were hoping that it would flew our casa on the way home but it flew East instead. But at least, we got to see it.
During my lunch break at work, rain or shine, I’m out walking around the beautiful university grounds. There were many footpaths to choose from and one of my favourite was around the ‘nursery’ lake. I always have my camera with me because you’ll never know what you might come across. As I was walking past The Slate conference centre, I came across a demonstration for a driveless pod. I’d to stifle my laugh when it hit one of the bollards. I guess there was still a lot of tweaking to be done.
Behind the Heronbank student accommodation, was a wildflower meadow which was teeming with insects. The flowers and grasses were bursting with colour supporting butterflies, bugs and bees. In summer, flower-rich meadows became a mini-jungle, alive with brightly coloured wildflowers, teeming with buzzing and chirping insects. Woodland flowers came early in the spring, before the canopy closed overhead, then the lanes, verges and pockets like this were full of creamy beauties. Among them were Corncockle, Wood anemone, Cow parsley, Daisy, Harebell, Wild carrot, Foxglove, Teasel, Lady’s bedstraw, Common ragwort and others. I could spent hours here but I’ve got work to do.
Deep in the meadow, under the willow.
A bed of grass, a soft green pillow.
Lay down your head, and close your eyes.
And when they open, the sun will rise.
Here it's safe, and here it's warm.
Here the daisies guard you from every harm.
Here your dreams are sweet, and tomorrow brings them true.
Here is the place where I love you.
Deep in the meadow, hidden far away.
A cloak of green, a moon beam ray.
Forget your woes, and let your troubles lay.
And when again it's morning, they'll wash away.
Here it's safe, and here it's warm.
Here the daisies guard you from every harm.
Hre your dreams are sweet, and tomorrow brings them true.
Here is the place where I love you
We ended sunny July with another trip to our favourite playground. Babe had been here several times during the month and he’d photographed waders that had dropped by to take advantage of the low water levels due to the hot weather. The shallow water and muddy margins were teeming with ducks and waders feeding on the exposed mud. A wader which got the photographers, twitchers and visitors excited was when a Wood sandpiper, one of those special autumn passage birds, dropped in to rest and refuel.
The Wood sandpiper was a medium-sized wader and the smallest of the shanks. It had a fine straight bill, yellowish legs and a conspicuous long, white stripe from the bill over the eye to the back of the neck. It foraged by probing in shallow water or on wet mud, and mainly ate insects and similar small prey. It was a long-distance passage migrant that bred in Northern Europe and wintering in Africa.They were listed as a Schedule 1 species. As usual, it was gone by the time I arrived.
Thankfully, a Green Sandpiper foraging close to the hide, managed to hide my disappointment. While the Green sandpiper was a rather dumpy wader, short-legged and ‘hunched’ in profile, the Wood sandpiper was slim, long-legged, small headed and long-necked, an all round more elegant looking bird. Green Sandpipers were blackish-green above, with a bright white belly and a white rump. It had a white eye-ring and a supercilium that extended to just behind the eye.They were rare breeding birds in the UK and mainly seen when they visited in autumn and winter.
A Green Sandpiper rarely used its bill for probing, preferring to pick insects and invertebrates from the surface of the water. It frequently bobbed up and down when standing. It appeared nervous and flew off with a low zig-zagging flight when disturbed. It was conspicuous and characteristically patterned in flight, with the wings dark above and below and a brilliant white rump. In flight, it had a characteristically three-note ‘tlweet-eet-eet’ whistle.
On the main island, a pair of Little Ring Plovers were busy foraging among the juvenile Oyster-catchers. Small and rotund waders with their distinctive yellow eye-ring, they foraged for insects and aquatic invertebrates in a very distinct way; standing and watching, running forward, pecking, daintily picking up morsels of food then standing still again. It was quite cute to watch them scuttering across the mudflat, sometimes energetically trampling around on the sand to flush prey out of hiding places. Another plover joined them and its arrival was announced by repeated 'butterfly' song-flights. These migrant species, arrived in this country in mid-March and left in July to winter in the northern tropics of Africa.
We decided to head back before Hurricane Chris moved over the Atlantic and bringing with it a heavy downpour. The Met Office said that tropical storm Chris, which was building on the US east coast and was predicted to become a hurricane, caused a blip in the current sweltering weather with it a fortnight of heavy rain and thunderstorms. I was looking forward to that. We’d to take shelter at the Baldwin Hide when the heavens opened. When we opened the shutters, we were chuffed to see the family of Tufted ducks enjoying the rain.
The Tufted duck ducklings were still hanging out with their mum. As with most species of ducks, the drake played no part in the incubation of the eggs or the rearing of the youngsters. The ducklings quickly learnt who their mother was, and followed her everywhere. Once the ducklings had fledged their first true feathers, after about 50 days, they were independent. Juveniles were similar in appearance to mature female adults but the colour was less vibrant and the tuft was less pronounced. Males in non-breeding plumage also resembled females with a brown tint and a less prominent tuft or no tuft at all. Reproductive maturity was quickly reached by both sexes, and breeding could occur during the following breeding season.
When we arrived home, we looked out the window and saw a soaking Coal Tit at the bird-feeder. The cute bird was the smallest in the tit family we have in the UK, and was easily identified with its black cap, black bib and distinct white rectangle on the back of the head and neck. A regular visitor to most feeders and was also the only member of its family that had learned to make a larder. Individual birds will visit feeders frequently but rarely eat the food immediately. Instead they took it away to stash so that when times get hard they had something in reserve. They were quite shy at bird feeders, and we often see them dashed in, grabbed a beak full and dashed off again.
We also picked another tub of raspberries after the rain had stopped. Our little plot of summer-fruiting bushes had been fruiting profusely that we’d to pick every 2 days. Known as nature’s candy, the long summer days had produced a rich red colour with a sweet juicy tasty flavour. We’d them fresh as dessert and I’d them with my porridge for breakfast. It was the highlight of fresh eating, home-grown and straight from the garden. It started with only 3 plants and these suckering plants that spread via underground runners had multiplied into at least 20 plants and they kept spreading. I am looking forward to pick more raspberries next year.
"Summer has set in with its usual severity."
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge