Thursday, November 15, 2007

Harlequin Ladybird Invasion!

Apparently there is a rather large, aggressive ladybird now here in the UK which could eat our cute little native ladybirds out of house and home. See the Harlequin Survey. A ladybird turned up in the office and I checked but it wasn't a Harlequin I don't think. I never knew there were so many kinds of ladybirds native to this country (46 to be exact).

Ladybird Ladybird fly away home back to the States where you came from.

Ladybird! Ladybird! fly away home;
The field mouse is gone to her nest,
The daisies have shut up their sleepy red eyes,
And the birds and the bees are at rest.

Ladybird! Ladybird! fly away home;
The glowworm is lighting her lamp,
The dew's falling fast, and her fine speckled wings
Will flag with the close-clinging damp.

Ladybird! Ladybird! fly away home;
To your house in the old hollow tree,
Where your children so dear have invited the ant
And a few cozy neighbors to tea.

Ladybird! Ladybird! fly away home;
The fairy bells tinkle afar;
Make haste, or they'll catch you and harness you fast
With a cobweb of Oberon' car.

Ladybird! Ladybird! fly away home;
Good luck if you reach it at last!
The owl's come abroad, and the bat's on the roam,
Sharp-set from their diurnal fast."
author unknown

Thursday, November 08, 2007

November Rain

Deep grey clouds lowering over us, blustery wind pushing them along at a pace. The wind whips around the building moaning and wailing, evoking in me some deep ancestral memory of artic winters. And then comes the rain; silvery, slanting, like flashing needles, cold and sharp. The building creaks and we cower like mice in dark corners wondering where the golden autumn has seeped away like so much spilt cider.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Compost Corner

Our compost bin is now in place and I've filled it with all the waste food we have been collecting over the last week: mouldy carrots, grapes, blackened bananas, greening cabbage, potato peelings and alas the pretty dragonfly that was starting to lose it's colours and go black too. I feel sorry that I couldn't preserve him a bit better. Still as Danny says, "once the spirit has departed the earthly body serves no useful purpose" apart from to make compost of course!
Perhaps by next spring we'll have something worth using on the garden.

Catch a Shooting Star

We spent a pleasant evening on Sunday at my brother's house as it was my mum's birthday. They had lit a fire in a burner outside and we all stood round hoping to see shooting stars as it had been forecasted to be a wonderful meteor shower that night starting at around 11pm. By about 11.45ish I had seen about 6 or 7 meteors; a couple of them really good ones with long golden tails. They go in such a flash though. I thought there would be more of them together but we had to go in the end and my neck was aching that much I couldn't take any more. Great stuff though. And it was fun looking through the binoculars and seeing how many more stars are viewable even with the tiniest amount of magnification.

Beautiful Dragonfly

I found this lovely dragonfly on the pavement as I was walking back to work the other day. It must have been freshly dead because it was perfect apart from a slightly damaged wing. I think it's a Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta). Apparently they are quite common. It was an amazing chance to see one close up as most of the time dragonflies move so quickly you just get a tantalising glimpse all in a jewelled blur at best. Looking at the eyes was stunning. They reflected all the colours and you could see all of the individual cells. Fantastic!

I was wondering how far this little fella had moved from water as there didn't seem to be any obvious water source nearby. I don't know how far dragonfly territories extend or even if they have territories. I think the nearest pond is a few roads away which perhaps isn't too far for a winged insect.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Last night after our training session in the dojo, it was getting dark as the sun was going down which always looks great over by our end of the road because you have a great view of it. It's just the lay of the land. It was still warm enough to sit outside the dojo on our bench and enjoy the ambience as the sky became a deep prussian blue with Venus glowing bright and glassy. A little bat came flitting by so small and hardly noticeable. I wonder what kind of bat it was. Probably a pipistrelle as they are the commonest bats in the UK. But I have no way of being able to get a closer look, I am just really glad to see them still around.

Summer Photos

Just because I think they look pretty!

The image of the swallow babies was taken in County Wicklow, Ireland at my partner Danny's sister's house. She had several swallow nests growing under the eaves of her porch. The swallows didn't seem to mind people coming and going at all. There were a lot of swallows in Ireland. There seemed to be more than I have seen here in recent years but maybe I just haven't been in the right place at the right time. Swallows used to be my favourite birds when I was a child. There was something mysterious about them, the way they gathered together in September to fly off far away to the South. I wanted to go with them and understand their chittering like in the old fairytales when people could fathom bird-talk. I still love swallows. In fact I love all birds but now I have other favourites: bullfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches.
And of course the magpie.

The yellow archangel (top right picture) was spotted up on the top of the Beacon in the Lickey Hills. I have never seen it growing there before and in such profusion. The pale yellow flowers contrasted beautifully with the deep burgundy spiky bits. Gorgeous!

Thursday, August 09, 2007


I went for a walk at lunchtime as it is so sunny today I thought I had better make the most of it especially considering the really awful weather we have been having. I usually do a stint down the local leafy lane where all the big posh houses are as they have lots of trees and bushes and there are plenty of birds and interesting plants growing in their gardens. I have noticed that there are no birds singing anymore. No chaffinches, no bluetits. In fact not many birds to be seen around either. I did pass 3 magpies on the playing fields and stopped to watch them as they either hopped or waddled along. Members of the crow family seem to favour wide open spaces where the grass is short. Maybe that's because they can dig for wireworms and find beetles and other insects more easily than rough tussocky grass. Or maybe it's to do with being able to see things coming from a distance too. Who knows. Speaking of magpies - I found this interesting webpage on a great British bird site. It has a good discussion forum and lots of useful info about birds. What intrigues me about the description of magpies is this sentence:
"The tail accounts for over half the total length of the bird and is an indication of the bird's status in its society."
From that perhaps it is just meant that a juvenile bird has a shorter tail because it hasn't had time to grow a long one yet. But one could also take it to mean that the longer the tail the higher up the pecking order that particular magpie would go until it reached the top where it would be crowned King or Queen Magpie! Hmmmm.

As I carried on with my walk I noticed two different types of Lavender growing in a front garden. The one kind looks very pretty with large "ears" of purple but very little scent unless the leaves are bruised and even then the scent wasn't that pleasant; kind of sharp and not very aromatic and soothing. The other kind was the old-fashioned english lavender which doesn't look so spectacular but makes up for it with it's gorgeous spicy warm scent which you only have to brush the plant to send wafting around you in delicious waves. I was just in the process of crushing a tiny bit of one stalk of the old english type in my hand as the owner of the house returned and as he drove into the driveway he bibbed his car horn and wagged his finger! I thought he was a complete idiot. Fancy telling someone off for smelling your lavender. I mean that is what it's there for isn't it? People can become so obsessed with owning and controlling natural things they forget that we all really belong to the garden - it doesn't belong to us!

Thus endeth the lesson for today!

Fat Dormice

My colleague has just told me about Fat Dormice or Glis glis And here. These are the dormice that the romans like to eat...yuk. They look more like grey squirrels and are quite hefty with large bushy tails. A bit of a contrast to the smaller Common Dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) we have here. These fat dormice have a fascinating history having been brought here in 1902 by Baron Walter Rothschild, where they escaped from his Tring country estate. They now roam free(god bless 'em) but only in a specific area of the country. Namely, a 200 square mile triangle bounded by Beaconsfield, Aylesbury and Luton. If you have them living in your attic you can't kill them because they are protected, so you will have to either put up with their bumpings and wooflings or have them expelled (gently) by someone with a license to do so. They sleep for 7 months of the year apparently so they shouldn't be too much trouble. Awwwww how sweet.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Snake in the Grass

This post has been prompted by my friend Janet who told me recently about seeing grass snakes Natrix natrix - don't look at the link if you are squeamish about snake pictures! I haven't seen one for years and would love to see one again. I looked them up on the net and am in awe of their beautiful colours. They really are a sight worth seeing. I had a compost bin for my birthday recently so perhaps I will end up with one in there! You never know. Talking of which it's amazing how much waste one collects just from one meal. It makes me realise all the glorious compost I could have been making all along. I have yet to site the bin properly as it has no bottom so it needs to be placed directly on top of the soil. I am quite excited about having it because it means we can improve the quality of the clay soil here at no extra cost and I don't have to feel guilty about throwing out kitchen waste!

I put a load of old pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds out for the birds but I haven't seen one bird eat them yet. Instead they have become covered with slime trails as the slugs and snails have had a feast. Yuk! Where are all the thrushes when you need 'em?