A plethora of flowers.

In a week of generally cooler weather, it appears that the exodus of damselflies from the pond has slowed down, although as I am at work there is a chance that I missed some of them.  However, this may be just as well, there have been lots of young sparrows and starlings generally kicking up a racket in the garden, but we have also had a young greenfinch feeding on the sunflower hearts.  You can tell these apart from the adults by their stripiness.

I have seen very few butterflies this week, but, now that the first of our honeysuckles has come out in flower I am hoping to see a lot more bees just outside the kitchen window.

Most of the trees now seem to have their summer foliage on, even the ash and the oak are clothed in green.

Onto the flowers…..  I went out looking for orchids this week, but the place I saw them last year appears to have been mown to within an inch of its life.  However, there are a lot more flowers out there waiting for you.  Firstly, brightening up many a hedgerow and road side is the pink campion.  I spoke to someone a couple of years ago from the Peterborough area who said that at that end of the River Nene they mainly have white campions whilst the Northampton end is populated by the pink campion.  This is  a perennial plant, the pink apparently being a product of the white and red campion.

Not to be outdone by my favourite rose, rosa rugosa, the dog roses, rosa canina, are starting to appear in the hedgrows.  These are mainly shades of pink, but some are almost white.  This is James’s favourite, and we have some growing in the garden which we have grown from seed that we collected from the industrial estate.  He wouldn’t let me plant Rosa Rugosa, maybe it was to make sure I kept going to work!  Speaking of which, I no longer have to stop and snort, there are so many flowers out now that the air is filled with the scent in the morning.

My final spot of the week are the cheerful ox-eye daisies (leucanthemum vulgare), members of the chrysanthemum family which are showing up at the roadsides now.  You will have to excuse the picture, there are not many in the estate, and I have not managed to get to the edge of town where there are lots of them across from the scout hut.  Interestingly, many herbivorous insects do not like the daisy, the juice is apparently very bitter, so it used to be mixed with animal bedding in order to deter flies.

How to lead a more simple life….

A three part series has just come to an end on BBC2.  The series was presented by Peter Owen Jones, an Anglican vicar who tried to reduce his dependence on money and ‘stuff’.  During this time he tried self sufficiency, managing without money and making his way from his Sussex parish to North Devon depending on the benevolence of complete strangers for food and shelter.  His inspiration in this was St Francis of Assisi, his quest was to find out if living a more simple life would make him happier.

There have been some criticisms of this, many justified; is it easier to live without money if you have some, the presence of a camera crew may have made people more generous etc.  But, to me, the central messages of the series are pertinent to modern day life.

Firstly, the acquisition of money seems to be a way of reducing reliance on others, building up barriers so we can separate ourselves from other  people – we can just buy things or services from anonymous people and anonymous companies.  There is no need to bother building a relationship with people, having a relationship with money is easier.

Money is also self-defeating to some extent, or, rather the pursuit of money is.  Once we get past a certain point where we have enough to live comfortably; put food on the table, pay the bills, what do we want more money for?  In part it is (hopefully) for insurance for old age, but, more often it is to buy more.  Buy more cars, buy more things, buy a bigger house to put them in etc.  Then, we need more money, because there are other things we need more of.  When do we stop and ask whether we need these things, or even really want them.  There are very few people who do not have things in their house that they don’t use or wear, or that someone else bought for them, because they had to get them something, but ‘they already had everything they needed’.

Finally, by working to pay ever increasing bills, we are rushing round, not stopping to see what is there, all around us, and, more importantly, getting stuck in a rut, not finding out what we are really capable of.  Whether this is painting, gardening or even just listening, there are many of us who don’t take the time to find out what we can do.

So, did Peter Owen Jones successfully live without money, did a simple life make him happier?  I think the answer to both is yes.  In the end, the system beat him, he has to have a car due to the fact that he is vicar to three rural parishes, and car insurance is not something he can trade his time for.  But, admitting that in modern times it will be necessary to have some money, then I think he did quite well.  However, when he finally did get his wallet back I was surprised to see him struggling to not make spontaneous purchases of stuff!  Oh, and he did seem to have found a way to make his life more meaningful, and consequently happier – by spending time with parishioners, swapping his time for whatever they wanted to give – surely that is the way it should be if they value the service he offers?

So, what are my thoughts about Peter Owen Jones’ experiment?  I think it was an admirable experiment, that, whilst it would not work completely for everyone, certainly has something to offer to all.  It’s message certainly resonates with me.  We can all live with less, without the hankering for more.  Over the last few years I have bought less and less, Waitrose and books from Amazon being my main indulgence.  Not only does this give me more financial security, it means I throw less away, and, I have more time.  In that time I have discovered new hobbies – blogging for one, made new friends – at Tai Chi and a local camera club, and learned a lot more – through distance learning, internet resources and good, old fashioned reading.

I am at the point now where I don’t want more stuff, only more time.  As the saying goes, the best things in life are free (written whilst listening to bird song and watching the sun go down).  Maybe if we all tried to slow down and live a more simple life we could reduce society’s dependence on outside addictions including anti-depressants?

Nature just keeps on coming.

It seems as though all my posts are notes on nature, and, I apologise a little for that, but, when there is so much happening, so much that is new to look at every day, it is easy to forget about new governments and ash clouds, and to just get carried away with the song of blackcaps and the sight of butterflies, more of which later.

So, on the what’s new front, what is new?  For starters, my favourite rose, rosa rugosa, is beginning to flower.  I know they look blousy and flowery in their barbie pink and startling white, but the smell has to rival honeysuckle as my favourite scent.  Fortunately they are a favourite on industrial estates allowing me to stop every day to get a snort on my way to work.  Other flowers are out too, buttercups are now the yellow flower of choice for all self-respecting roadsides, as their predecessor dandelions seem to be going to seed.

There are other newcomers in the flower world if you look closely, including the very delicate looking vetch.  This member of the legume family seems to be fairly abundant once you start looking for it, mainly preferring slightly shadier conditions.

Many of the shrubs and trees appear to be flowering, with the hawthorn in full flower on both shady and sunny sides of the street.  Dogwood and sorbus (aka Mountain Ash or Rowan) are also showing off their white flowers, and the horse chestnuts are in full bloom.

I have no new birds to report, but the starlings and sparrows seem to have fledged and they are now busy repairing their nests (possibly with the aid of leaves pulled from my sweet peas) ready for the next brood.

On the insect front, I saw both a Holly Blue and a couple of Cabbage Whites in the garden today.  I am still chasing a picture of one of the Orange Tip butterflies that are patrolling verges and hedgerows, but in the mean time I did get a less than satisfactory picture of a Speckled Wood with its wings closed, an insect which is appearing in ever increasing numbers along the old railway track.

Today was also a good day for damselflies, with numbers emerging from the pond getting into double figures – the bamboo and rhubarb appearing to be good places to sit in the sun!

In the garden, perhaps half of the lettuces I planted out last week are still surviving, but one of my courgette seedlings has passed away, and my beans are awaiting the installation of a suitable climbing frame so they can be planted out (small hint there).  The bees are still making use of the pulmonaria, but are also being attracted to the aquilegia which is now in flower – although mainly in shades of purple and pink – oh, how I covet the white ones I saw round the corner!

Dare I hope? Is Summer coming?

This week continued to be unseasonably cold, with frost on some mornings – irritating for those who drive to work, but not for me.  However, on Monday I did notice the first hawthorn flowers of this Spring, but only in one place.  Everywhere else is green, with the buds just waiting to open, but not yet.  Many of the ornamental cherries have lost their flowers and are looking a shadow of their former selves, but their place is being taken by wild and bird cherries (prunus padus).  The latter are fairly distinctive having a spike of white flowers – they seem quite popular in industrial estates – the name is due to the popularity of their bitter fruits with birds.

In the verges there are now some buttercups competing with the dandelions, but I was surprised to see some clover flowering already on the industrial estate.  I didn’t think it would be out this early, so that shows how little I know.

I have no new bird sightings for the week although the number of house martins seems to be increasing which is good news because there is some concern about the numbers returning from their wintering grounds.  We have started feeding mealworms to the garden birds in the last week (not a cheap hobby as they can easily eat their own bodyweight in worms every day – or so it seems).  The main takers are about six sparrows and one great tit.  The starlings would be the main takers if we hadn’t put them behind bars (the mealworms that is, not the starlings), so, instead, they have taken to waiting for a sparrow to land with a mealworm and then they attack it.  Some have learned to fly straight off with their booty and avoid the ambush.  Other birds are making regular appearances with chaffinches, goldfinches and greenfinches as well as a robin and blue tit visiting each morning.  At work I have been lucky enough to watch a few pairs of bullfinches from my office window – they have been on the grass eating the seeds of the dandelions.

I finally saw a speckled wood butterfly this morning, well, about 4 or 5.  They were busy patrolling the nettles and garlic mustard on the old railway track as we walked back from town.  There were a couple of orange tips about as well.  Hopefully there will be more if the weather stays warm.  Today was also the day for my first damselfly of the year.  I spotted this large red damselfly in the garden, its wings sparkled in the sunlight as it flew up from near the pond to rest on the bamboo.  I found a larva case on a plant nearby so I think it may have emerged today.

All in all it has been quite a good week for nature spotting in Northamptonshire.

The first week of May.

At the end of April it was easy to be fooled into thinking that Summer was just around the corner.  This week has reminded me just how variable the British weather can be.  Whilst it has not been completely full of grey skies and gloom, I was a bit put out to see the hail come pouring down on several occasions – still ’twas a Bank Holiday Monday.

But, before I get too melancholic (also note, I will be complaining if it is too hot in the Summer, should we get one), I still found plenty of new things this week (new for the year, I am not claiming to have made any exciting discoveries).

On the insect front, the weather has made it pretty dismal, orange tip butterflies still taunt me when I have no camera handy, but otherwise I have not seen many insects about.  There are still some bees foraging, workers as well as queens, and a few wasps to be seen.

As far as flowers go, it appears everything is awash with dandelions and daisies, and, it seems the first dandelions have set seed already.  One flower that is also adding some colour is Herb Robert (Geranium Robertianum), a cransebill that grows in hedgerows.  This plant was used in medieval times for its medicinal properties, being used as a remedy for nosebleeds and toothache as well as dysentry.  The leaves, if rubbed on the skin, apparently repel mosquitoes, which I am not surprised by.  This plant often turns up in the garden, and, if you pull it up and are not wearing gloves, its not very pleasant smell stays with you for some time.  Whilst it is supposed to attract many insects, I must confess that I do not like to leave it in my garden as it does self seed quite prolifically.

Speaking of gardens, my beans are growing quite well now after the threat of moving them indoors.  The lemon balm is providing plenty of leaves for herbal teas and the bluebells are flowering well, showing up particularly in the less than ideal light we have had over the last week.

However, it is the bird news that I find most exciting this week.  On Sunday, a visit to the Country Park showed that the terns were back.  Although there were plenty of swifts, swallows and house martins there did not seem to be any sign of the hobbies that often hunt them at this time of year.  However, a check of Northants Bird Sightings seemed to suggest that the hobbies were back and some of those terns may have been arctic terns, unless they were being frightened off by the peregrine!  I sometimes think my timing may be a little off!  In the garden we have had two young blackbirds around, and I can say with certainty that there are young in the starling’s nest in the gutter outside my window!  I also heard and then saw my first blackcap of the year on the old railway track.  I am trying to improve my recognition of birdsong, the blackcap sounds a little like a robin, but more ‘burbling’.

All in all, considering the weather, it does not appear to have been too bad a week.

Not all bees are bumblebees.

OK, another post about bees, and, it is partly an excuse to put another picture of a bee on my blog, but there is a point I want to make. There has been a lot of concern about honey bees and the sudden collapse of hives (often this concern is motivated by the potential disaster for farmers and lost revenues), there has also been some publicity regarding bumble bees, following this I joined the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust, but what about other bees?  Other bees I hear you say – well, yes, what about solitary bees.  Before this Spring I didn’t really think about other types of bee, but once I started looking at them, the diversity amongst this set of insects becomes quite amazing.

In addition to the tawny mining bee that I mentioned in an earlier post, I have also come across the little chapess in the photo in my garden.  Once again I turned to I Spot as I had no idea what this was.  She was almost totally black, with a long proboscis and was totally obsessed with my pulmonaria.  She is in fact a hairy footed flower bee – what a fantastic name (anthophora plumipes). Both this bee and the tawny mining bee are solitary bees.  In this species the females are black apart from their pollen baskets whilst the males are more of a gingery colour.  They have particularly long tongues which they cannot fully retract, which is quite noticeable as they hover in front of flowers.  Although I have never noticed one before they are quite widespread in the South of England and are common visitors to gardens.

So, now you know, not all bees are bumble bees or honey bees, not all are stripy and (like the tawny mining bee) not all bees sting.

Nature Notes for the end of April.

Wow, what a busy week for nature this week.  First of all the most obvious signs of Summer appeared this week with my first swallow on Tuesday and my first swift on Saturday.  I saw a single swallow whilst driving back through the Northamptonshire countryside, but the swift was one of several in the sky above Daventry town centre.

Whilst out photographing architecture on Tuesday I noticed that there were a lot more flowers in the hedgerows and churchyards.  One of the most delicate of these is the Cuckoo Flower or Lady’s Smock, Cardamine Pratensis.  This flower (a member of the brassica family) has delicate pale pink flowers on a spike.  It grows best close to water, but can be found in churchyards and in ditches.  The plant is edible and is widespread through the UK.  It is also one of the flowers that is recorded as part of the Nature’s Calendar phenology study.  Cuckoo flowers are food for the larvae of orange-tip butterflies, of which I saw a number on Tuesday, but they were more interested in the nettle flowers than the cuckoo flowers.

Other flowers that are out, although thought to be a little late this year are the bluebells.  I went to photograph some on Tuesday at Everdon Stubbs and they were just starting to come out.  There were also a few wood anenomes still flowering along with celandines and stitchwort.  Also on the wing were brimstones, but I am still waiting to see my first speckled wood butterfly of the year – I did have a look along the old railway track on Friday, but there were none to be seen.

A trip to Badby Woods on Saturday was a different matter, the bluebells were much more in evidence, starting to give that hazy look when there are so many it is not possible to focus properly.  The bluebells, as expected were attracting a large number of bees and hoverflies.  I was hoping to hear a cuckoo in the woods, but was disappointed, perhaps it was drowned out by the racket made by chiffchaffs and great tits.

However, a very welcome sound heard as we were walking towards the woods was the wheezy song of a yellowhammer.  I used to regularly hear these in the fields around Daventry, but since Lang Farm has been built I have to travel further into the countryside to hear their call.