Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A Bee Success Story, A Goldcrest Comes To The Garden And Winter Knitting Begins!

I took L into Winchester for new school shoes this morning. £48! If Poppy eats those she'll find herself providing the leather for the next pair....
He amused both me and the girl who was serving us by giving the new shoes a Proper Workout, which involved running, skipping, leaping and jumping about the shop, to the extent that I felt I had to assure the girl there was nothing wrong with him.

Wet here today. As opposed to yesterday which was positively hot (19 degrees). We spent part of yesterday helping clear scrub at Magdalen aided by the small herd of British White Cattle who are used as conservation grazers on the hill. They were Curious as only cows can be....


We had a bonfire, which we all regretted as we were dressed for winter and it was already boiling hot. You couldn't get near it without your skin peeling, it was that fierce.


After a pub lunch, M and I took the dogs out for a walk round a friend's farm. There is still a surprising amount of colour in the land, considering November is almost upon us. Most of it is either yellow or white, provided by mayweed, nipplewort and dandelions.....


We passed several tall, elegant Parasol Mushies, which are edible.....


The light bathing Green Lane was beautiful....





It gave the land an ethereal, otherworldly feel.....


Roe deer were in evidence....


As were Green Manure crops, which our friend plants in many of his fields to give the soil some protection from winter erosion and to provide nutrients in the spring....



The setting sun resembled the moon....


And seed heads were a reminder that, despite the warmth, Autumn is now well and truly here....


Near the top of the field I found a badger run, which I'm including for those of you who've never seen one before. See the dark hole in the middle of the pic? Mr Brock ambles through there on his nightly visits out of the lane and across the fields.



How can you tell it's a badger run? Look for the tell-tale black and grey hair clump which will be stuck to the lower strand of barbed wire as the badger scrapes beneath it.....


I used to love doing this sort of Nature Detective Work when I was little. Truth be told, I've never grown out of it or lost the thrill of discovering tracks and signs. It's a way of reading the land that lets you in to its secrets; like having a window on a private, hidden world that no one else sees.

On that theme, I noticed hundreds of these tiny perfect holes had been drilled into the sandy soil at the field's edge. M walked over them without noticing, but I get drawn to these kinds of things. They are irresistible to me :o)


We had mining bees in our lawn a month ago so I supposed that's what these were. Anyway, I settled down to watch and after a few seconds of stillness the air above the holes and the earth around them became filled with the buzzing, the tooing and froing and the busy walking of many tens of small stripey people......




They are Ivy Mining Bees and they are Very Special, because they were only discovered as a species in 1993 (recorded first in Southern Europe). They were entirely new to science at that point. They were first recorded in the UK at Langton Matravers in Dorset in September 2001 and since then (much like the Tree Bee) they have begun a steady colonisation programme which has been so successful that they now live as far north as Shropshire and Staffordshire. They have also spread all along the south coast down to Cornwall, and are found in Norfolk and Wales. Their spread across Europe has been equally successful.

 
The bee is very distinctive, with a ginger head and a narrow stripey body. It doesn't sting (only the females can and they will only do so if squeezed) and they don't do any damage to the ground or to plants and flowers or other species. They are solitary bees that nest in holes in the ground in large colonies (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) and are very important pollinators of Ivy, which is their main (some say sole) food plant. Ivy is also crucial for many birds and other insects over the winter so these bees are doing a grand job by pollinating it. The fly for about 6 weeks during the Autumn and are generally on the wing in September.



The reason why they are so important is that they are one of only a couple of bee species to buck the trend of overall bee decline. There is no evidence that they cause a problem to our native bees, so we should all be welcoming them and celebrating their success....


Now, I know my family get driven mad by the time I take looking at and photographing small details when we're out and about, and I'm sure it must be annoying if you don't share that total absorption in the minutiae of nature, but I think I can honestly say this is the first time M has physically picked me up, put me over his shoulder and carried me away from Looking At Something Small And Interesting.

As soon as he put me down I of course scampered back to the bees and finished observing them and taking pictures. I was rewarded by this little one who wandered down the hole, turned round and popped it's head back out again.....Magic.....Incidentally, if you do see one, the BWARS is asking for recorded sightings, especially if you live further North than Shropshire (David?). Go to BWARS.com for more info :o)

 

 


All the wild things are feeling the change in the seasons, even if the weather has been unseasonably mild. There is a Small Tortoiseshell butterly hibernating on our TV and a magnificent Herald Moth has fallen asleep for the winter on the wall beside the attic stairs. I'm not sure it's the quietest place he could have chosen as the boys play shoot 'em ups on their xbox in the attic above at full volume, but he seems happy enough..... Incidentally, this is the only time of year I ever see Herald's- when they come indoors to hibernate.


My winter knitting projects have started again. I'm knitting squares of all shapes, colours and sizes to stitch into a blanket for L's bed. The long winter evenings require knitting, a warm fire, a big glass of wine and one of my TVBFs on the tele.....


I'll leave you with a Wonder who appeared in the Apple Tree this afternoon, flitting busily from branch to branch. In fact there were two, and given how small they are, how fast they move and how rubbish and overcast the weather is today, I am pretty chuffed with the resulting photo.....Goldcrests. First time I've ever seen them in the garden (although I did once see one in the lane - eight years ago!)



Happy Days!

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Sunday, 26 October 2014

City Of Dreaming Spires

Every now and then we get the urge to go to Oxford. The civilisation of the place rubs off and leaves one feeling tranquil, and cultivated by association. This is in stark contrast to our usual personas which might best be described as Rural (or possibly Agricultural).

We get the Park & Ride from Redbridge and disembark on Broad Street, enjoying the mellow stones and dreamy spires (but not the hoards of people) as we walk the well-trodden path to the Natural History Museum and Pitt Rivers. We've been doing this for years; it is part of the children's childhoods and I expect M and I will continue to do it long after they've had enough of accompanying us (and indeed J has already missed out on this trip, being as she is in France improving her muscles picking apples and at the same time perfecting her accent for next year...). 




Oxford started life properly as a Saxon Town during the 10th century (it wasn't of much interest to the Romans or the Celts). It is at a crucial convergence point of two rivers (the Thames and the Cherwell, were we go punting every summer) and lies between the two ancient Saxon Kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, hence it's value to those tribes.

It is famous the world over today for its University, which is the oldest English-speaking university in the world. Teaching has been going on in Oxford since 1096. By 1190 it was functioning as a recognisable teaching establishment. Its oldest college, Balliol, was established in 1249. In 1167 a row between Henry II and Archbishop Thomas Becket resulted in English students being banned from attending the University of Paris and as a result they gathered in Oxford for learning purposes. Oxford appears to be around twenty years older than its arch rival Cambridge (which is where M went, so I have to be careful when expressing any opinions :o) ). 

It is also famous for its bicycles, which the students use to get around and which are generally to be found padlocked to every conceivable fence or railing space.....




In 1860, the newly opened Oxford University Museum of Natural History hosted one of the most important debates in scientific history when Samuel Wilberforce (Bishop of Oxford) and Thomas Huxley (biologist and writer) argued furiously about Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and the questions it raised about man’s place in the natural world and religious belief. Darwin was unwell and couldn't attend but Huxley argued for him and was called 'Darwin's Bull Dog' as a result of his performance.

It's a fantastic place and well worth a visit (and that's coming from someone who finds museums rather sleep-inducing at the best of times, even while admiring them). It is packed full with specimens and has a marvellous time-line of evolution and adaptations around one wall, as well as being home to several specimens collected by Darwin himself on his travels.







50,000 year old Rhino vertebrae found in the North Sea

The Dodo, hunted to extinction in Mauritius because it didn't know it should be afraid of men.

Wandering Albatross

Whale-headed Stalk









 

 
Puffa Fish



European Skate Leech

Toucan




The Museum has a connection with Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice In Wonderland and was an Oxford resident and don. Personally, I never enjoyed these books and found them distinctly weird.



The Nat Hist Mus backs on to the Pitt Rivers Museum, which is an amazing room crammed full of the most weird and wonderful exhibits and collections from around the world (including shrunken heads). It gives me the willies, so apart from the first time when I went in after hearing M rave about it, I haven't been back inside that room. Instead I tend to dither about on the stairs trying to convince myself it'll be fine and the odd energies coming from all the things in the room won't affect me at all, before I come to my senses and return to the Nat Hist bit while M and F marvel at all the oddments to be found in Pitt Rivers. Like Morris Dancing and The Shipping Forecast, Pitt Rivers is a place I am glad exists while having no wish to sample it's delights myself personally.......



On this trip I found myself rather mesmerised by the incredible cabinet of insects on the right just as you enter the Nat Hist Mus. After a while L joined me there. He sat down dolefully on a chair and proceeded to read how to be an SAS expert in survival while I sat on the floor and stared at all the wonderful things in the cabinet with my mouth open.

I am not a fan of killing and pinning as you know, but the insects in this cabinet are not recent specimens, so it was an opportunity to admire them...... 

You've got off lightly here btw- I came back with at least 50 pics from this set :o) The first one is, of course, the fantastic Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas), the largest moth in the world (wing span of one foot!), who usually lives in South East Asia (6000 miles from the UK).

There is a fantastic story of one who turned up in Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, in 2010. It landed on the window of a suburban house and is believed to be the only one that has ever been found in the UK. It's worth having a quick listen to the BBC report of it here. The adults only live for a week, but this one laid eggs which grew into pillars.....







I was a bit befuddled in the head after all those wonderful insects. L complained that I wasn't making any sense and had a head full of butterflies as we walked down to the tenth century Saxon Tower of  St Micheal On The North Gate. We dropped L off at Waterstones next door and the rest of us climbed the tower for the view over the city....




St Michael's contains the door to the cells through which Thomas Cranmer (Archbishop) was led to his execution by burning at the Stake in nearby Broad Street in 1556.



On the way back to the bus home we passed a couple of things that seem to sum Oxford up.....A joke about Handel and a grown man pedaling a stationary bicycle blowing bubbles and wearing a rabbit's head (I know the pic is blurry but somehow it seemed more appropriate than a crisp, sharp, clear one)....




I managed to dive off into Hotel Chocolate for a few minutes and splurged on some choccies, which I am looking forward to eating all by myself...... :o)






This is allowed because it's now half past five and it's DARK already :o(

Oh well, a lovely day out has more than made up for the loss of that precious daylight hour at the end of the day. Roll on Spring!

CT :o)