30 Days Wild, June 2020

Tuesday 30th June: In praise of small things…

Here we are at the final day of June already (rain starting, high winds for the last day or two, and a huge drop in temperature since last week’s heatwave). Nevertheless, I’ve managed a walk each day, even if it hasn’t been recorded here, and I’m getting better at listening to nature, smelling it (!) watching for it. My final post is getting close up and personal in my own garden, which I’m so lucky to have, a sparse and incomplete list of links and books which I like to read/follow, and a photo of these beauties:

Essex Wildlife Trust   My ‘local’ group

The Wildlife Trusts  for setting up #30DaysWild

 Plant Life  I’ve recently joined this charity, encouraging the non-mowing of verges and roundabouts in an attempt to save som of our wild flowers.

I love this podcast: Melissa Harrison

Chris Gibson  Wonderful blog to follow #NaturalHealthService

I ’ve loved all of Simon Barnes’‘Bad Birdwatcher’ books, and most recently, Birdwatching with your eyes closed.

with apologies to everyone and everything good I’ve missed out…

Saturday 27th June: LISTEN!

My obsession continues, unabated. You’ll need to turn up the volume if you click on this video clip. Watch and listen to the swifts! Marvellous – so excited to finally see so many. The young ones must have fledged, which means they won’t be around for much longer before they’re southbound again. In the photo below (yes, you’ll need to squint) I counted nearly forty of them!

 

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Friday 26th June: In Praise of Swifts

I wish I could provide my own photo of these wonderful, amazing birds, but they’re too high and too fast for me to capture or do justice in a photo. Do look at Carl Bovis’ website – many wonderful bird photographs and the most amazing photo of a swift in flight, head on!

During these hot days, I’ve taken to evening walks and recently have been delighted to hear the swifts screaming (the only kind of screaming I love to hear!) and to see them flying much lower – diving along the High Street beneath the telephone wires, shrieking around the rooftops and the church tower, and barging each other out of the way mid-flight. I find it amazing that they do everything on the wing.

Last year, there were swifts nesting under the eaves of the church (they flew in and out low over the heads of our Macbeth cast!) and this year, I’ve seen evidence of swifts nesting under the eaves in two different locations in our village. There seem to be fewer swifts this year, but maybe they’re more scattered around the area.

There is nothing better than looking upwards, maybe in response to the distant screams, and seeing a swarm scything through the air. They really are remarkable. If you share my fascination for swifts (and I truly think they’re my favourite bird – endlessly enthralling to watch) then look at the Swift Conservation website.

Thursday 25th June: Gold

On the hottest day of the year so far, just two photos from my (cool) evening walk:

Monday 22nd June: Avoiding the Crowds

Met my parents today for a distanced walk at East Bergholt in Suffolk. We zigzagged through the Dedham Vale, keeping to shady paths and trying to avoid both Dedham and Flatford – though you don’t need to walk more than a couple of hundred yards away from a car park to lose the majority of people. It was a good day for butterfly-spotting (no photos) with hundreds of Meadow Browns flitting above the long grasses and over the numerous bramble flowers (are they doing better this year, or am I noticing them more?) and we also saw Commas, Tortoiseshells, a Red Admiral and an electric-blue Damselfly (note to self – start work on learning damselfly varieties!). Very appropriately, wonderful Constable skies too.

 

Saturday 20th June: Midsummer

Tonight would have been the fifth and final performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A perfect evening for outdoor theatre. In fact, a perfect run of evenings this week. Swifts wheeling high in the sky. Fewer than in previous years, I think. A background of birdsong, the droning of bees on the lavender, the scent of honeysuckle. So long as the weather holds, it can be magical. Happy Solstice!

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Above image taken (and adapted) by Tom Chambers.

Friday 19th June

This morning’s walk got increasingly hot, but it was good to be out in the morning. Today’s photos: a car wheel being ‘rewilded’ (it’s been parked in the same place throughout lockdown!); today was my father-in-law’s 90th birthday, so it was a timely delight to be able to welcome him into our household ‘bubble’ to celebrate together; my walking companions and me photographing foxgloves in Villa Wood.

Thursday 18th June: Rain

Woke up a few times during the night, and heard the rain. Rained most of the day – welcome rain, steady rain, enough to water the dry garden, settle the dust and cool the air. Late afternoon walk up to Cockaynes and Villa Wood – beautiful clouds piling up amongst stretches of blue skies. I’m fast becoming a grumpy old woman these days – especially at people out in the countryside plugged into headphones, totally unaware of the presence of other people, other walkers, traffic and most of all, the wonderful sounds and sights around them. Thank goodness being out had its usual soothing effect on my irritability!

Wednesday 17th June: Stag Beetles

Hot and sticky day, thunder clouds building. I’d have been worrying had we been acting! Instead, had a socially-distanced writing group meeting in a friend’s garden – I sat in the shade of a silver birch. Stag beetles galore when I got home – including one male which had to be helped out of our lounge. The photo below is of a female in our garden. I hope they met each other.  They sound (and look) like clockwork insects, flying around with their clunky bodies and whirring wings, prehistoric creatures which haven’t evolved to fly smoothly. I’ve been recording my sightings and finding out more here.

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Tuesday 16th June: First Night Flowers

First night flowers… In a parallel universe, tonight is the first night of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I’m directing for the Wivenhoe Open Air Shakespeare Company. I’ve been in various productions, and been Assistant Director for two over the past six years. Yes, that’s outdoors – so beautiful (even when rainy) evenings spent outside in a garden, or in the churchyard – watching swifts, stag beetles, moths, the local blackbird taking over our lighting tower as a singing post… Magical. We’ve had to postpone to next summer because of Covid, but this evening, my lovely Assistant Director brought me ‘first night flowers’ and we stood and chatted on my doorstep for half an hour!

 

Monday 15th June: Suffolk Skies

Took the family back to Stutton Ness for the same walk as last week (different people!). As wonderful as last time. Look at this Suffolk sky, above the insect-corridor of Ox-Eye Daisies:

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Sunday 14th June

Perfect early walk along the quay (saw a seal and some Common Terns diving and catching fish in the river) around Ferry Marsh and back through the woods before it got too hot. Lovely!

Saturday 13th June

Superb outdoors day! Had lots of help doing some overdue cutting back and clearing in the garden, and finally managed to layer up a pile of dead and dying twigs and branches as an impromptu bug hotel. No photos, but I know it’s there!

Friday 12th June

Long, hot sticky walk in the muggy, misty weather, along the river bank. Just lovely to be out. Afternoon spent delivering lockdown groceries to parents, sitting socially distanced in their gardens, looking up to the sky to see swifts, and at the ground to see the intricate wings on this marvellous bee:

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Thursday 11th June

An incredibly busy screen-filled day and a relief to walk in Cockaynes Nature Reserve in the late afternoon.

Wednesday 10th June

Cold, rainy and a ‘low mood’ day. Even an afternoon walk didn’t much help, but I tried again in the evening when the rain had paused, took some photos which made me pay closer attention and walked home much happier with birdsong ringing in my ears (was it when I set out? I don’t know, I wasn’t listening!)

Tuesday 9th June: Crossing the Border

Today feels like a holiday. I cross the border out of Essex, and meet my parents at Stutton on the Suffolk side of the River Stour for a socially-distanced walk (my first ‘drive-to’ walk since lockdown started, as I’ve stuck to walking from my doorstep). Mum and dad are, and have always been, very keen walkers – and have increasingly used public transport to support their walks. Using cars feels like a backward step, but their need to walk regularly is strong and I know they’ve missed it, living in a town as they do.

So, a favourite and varied circuit walked in an anti-clockwise direction around part of the Holbrook peninsula in Suffolk, with panoramic estuary views of Mistley and Wrabness across the River Stour in Essex. I’ve written about this route before. It’s a beautiful day today (the only good one in a wet week, as it transpires), blue skies peppered with a few puffy white clouds with a sharp enough wind every time you step out of the shelter.

The path begins along fields edged with intense purple and red (mallow and poppies), Hogweed, Chervil and Hemlock – similar but different to Cow Parsley. The track is wide and the air feels fresh. Stepping up into the wind on the sea wall at Stutton Mill is to enter a different world, one scented with iodine, swallows flitting along mud and sand banks and bright flashes of white and black oystercatchers, and stretching the eyes into the distance. The riverside path is eroding, but parts of it are through wooded cliffs where the eye catches sparkles on the water through the oak trees. A whitened patch of undergrowth proved to be guano, not flowers, when we realised there were several egrets nesting high in the trees. Bubbling, gurgling and harsh calls altered us to their presence.

We picnic on the Ness itself, just round enough to be out of the wind – distant views of the docks at Felixstowe and Harwich – tantalising as I’m yearning to see the sea, but we aren’t quite far enough round the estuary for that view yet. The water lapping on the shore is such a soothing sound.

Later, as we turn inland away from the river, we are delighted by an ‘insect border’ to the field, full of ox-eye daisies. A real treat for the senses.

Sunday 7th and Monday 8th June

Not much time to get out (and certainly not dry enough to practise yoga on the lawn, as suggested on the website!) but did manage late afternoon walks on both days through Villa Wood, my favourite local patch of woodland. There are mainly oak and sweet chestnut trees in this little valley, with a stream running through. In Spring, the bluebells are marvellous, and in Autumn, there is a super range of fungi. In fact, I love walking here at all times of year. It’s a brisk 10-minute walk from home, so probably enough time to get into my stride, and when I plunge into the wood, my mood is already lifted. Sometimes I walk through it as part of a circuit elsewhere, sometimes I weave a little figure of eight through it, just to be in the wood amongst the trees. Birdsong greets you as you enter, the wind (or rain!) in the leaves swells and falls, and sunlight drizzles through the leaves like a blessing. Today the scent of the head-height bracken took me straight back to childhood holidays. Wonderful.

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Unfurling ‘fiddle-heads’ of bracken

 

Saturday 6th June: Consider the Starling

Consider the starling. A common-or garden bird, almost always present on my bird feeder, sleek and iridescent, the most overlooked in the beautiful bird stakes. With a flap and flurry of wings, it has no idea of social-distancing. Recently, the bird-table has resembled a crèche. A week ago, three plain-brown juveniles were frequently  lined up on the roof, mouths straining open, whilst a straggly-looking (smaller) adult frantically fed from the fat-balls, before feeding the greedy youngsters. I learned that the adult birds have a membrane which they can close to cover their eyes during feeding, for self-protection. Today, with much flapping of wings and NOISE, the youngsters are feeding themselves, squabbling, chattering, watching and waiting very impatiently – certainly not turn-taking! I’m hoping they’ll reward me with their own Wivenhoe-based murmuration in the autumn.

Thursday 4th and Friday 5th June: Kitchen Disaster!

The Elderflower Cordial was hugely disappointing. It tasted overly sweet, but with an unmistakable undercurrent of something unpleasant… I’m clearly no Earth Goddess, so I tipped it down the drain and think I’ll stick to sloe gin in future! After checking a couple of other recipes, including a video with a beautiful blonde presenter carrying a basket of fresh elderflowers (I am not blonde enough, young enough, nor was I wearing an off-the-shoulder swishy summer dress) I’m sure it wasn’t a mistake in the recipe. I have surreptitiously sniffed a few more elderflowers, and concluded that I just don’t like the smell!

So here instead are a few photos of the wonderful evening light in #wildwivenhoe taken on my daily walks:

Wednesday 3rd June: Cider with Rosie – Elderflowers

Up and out early along Ferry Marsh to admire the salsify:

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Heard (but couldn’t see) a flying cuckoo with hiccups: ‘cuck-cuckoo,’ and continued along the Wivenhoe Trail (very quiet if you’re this early) zig-zagging back through Wivenhoe Woods. You’d hardly believe there had been so many bluebells – all flattened leaves and a few seed heads now; trees still alive with birdsong.

Back home, picked elder flowers – Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie describes it better than I can: snow clouds… fumes and flakes of their sweet and giddy suffocation – and used this Woodland Trust recipe  to make my first-ever Elderflower Cordial. Throughout the cooking process it looked suspiciously like urine, smelled unpleasant, and had vats of sugar added, so I’m really not sure about it. Watch this space…!

Tuesday 2nd June: Red Kites

We spent the day driving North to Leeds, and back home again, so I wasn’t expecting much ‘nature.’ Imagine my excitement when I looked through the windscreen and saw (and identified) a Red Kite – not just once, but twice! Just North of Peterborough on the A1, I saw an overlarge and rusty-coloured buzzard (as I thought) with a very forked tail. Thank goodness for google… We were actively looking for it on the return journey, and were delighted to spot it, circling with another one over the road. A birding friend sent me this interesting link (Northamptonshire Red Kite re-introduction).

A late-evening stroll into the village reassured me that the swifts (though I’m sure fewer than last year) are still circling the church and screaming around the chimney tops of the Wivenhoe Bookshop and neighbouring buildings.

Monday 1st June: Cockaynes Nature Reserve

After a morning spent staring at a computer screen, I was desperate for some fresh air and exercise, so headed into the Cockaynes Nature Reserve (having walked along the riverbank and up the footpath at The Chase first). No photos, but I spotted a dragonfly (definitely not a damselfly) which I tentatively identified (thanks to British Dragonflies) as a Common Hawker. Walking back through the high-arched oak trees bordering Villa Wood was like stepping into the cool of a church on a hot day, fitting as being in nature is the closest way for this non-believer to feel remotely spiritual!