Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Mainly Birds Part 2

Early in the morning the following day we visited Slimbridge WWT founded by Sir Peter Scott, only child of Antartic explorer Robert Falcon Scott. 
My husband met Peter Scott in the 1970s. They were both attending a conference in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, drawing up a convention for the protection of the Red Sea. Scott was representing the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and they shared a car and driver for the duration. In every spare moment Scott worked in his sketchbook recording the beautiful fishes and birds that he saw whilst visiting the different locations. The Saudi hosts were fascinated, as was my husband. He was a very modest and unassuming character and fun to be with.
Greater Flamingo - Phoenicopterus roseus is the largest of all the flamingo family. It is found in Africa, India, the Middle East, and Southern Europe. When we drove through the Camargue several years ago we saw a large flock of these flamingos. When they took to the air, I remember thinking how much they resembled Dyson vacum cleaners!
There are six different species of Flamingo at Slimbridge. 
A pair of Orinoco Geese from S. America. I assumed that this was a couple of males preening one another, but in fact these geese are momomorphic - the males and the females look the same.
Cranes - Grus grus
Cranes were wide spread in the Uk upto 1600 but they were sadly driven into extinction through wetland damage and hunting for food. Now, happily, they are a great success story. Flocks of them can now be found breeding across several areas of the country including N.E Scotland.
If you would like to read the start of a success story from Slimbridge regarding the small Spoon-billed Sandpiper please read here. I wrote about its threatened demise 9 years ago.
Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia
Avocet - Recurvirostra avosetta
The number of birds to be seen at Slimbridge could fill a book. The previous post began with our own familiar British Mute Swan, so I will conclude with a glide pass of four other species of swan. There are only 7 species of swan and the two I have left out are Whopper swans, who have yet to arrive for the winter at Slimbridge, and the Trumpeter swan from North America.
Coscoroba Swan - Coscoroba coscoroba
This swan comes from South America. It is the smallest swan in the world and is often mistaken for a goose with its short neck and waxy red duck bill.
This swan is really cute with its red bill and matching pair of red legs and feet.
The Black Swan - Cygnus atratus is a large swan which breeds mainly in the SE & SW regions of Australia. With its black, almost velvet like plumage, red bill with a pale bar and tip, greyish/black legs and feet it is a handsome bird.
The Black Neck Swan -
Cygnus melancoryphus is the largest native waterfowl in S. America. It has a large red knob at the base of the bill and white stripes running behind the eyes. My husband saw a group of these in a lagoon in Tierra del Fuego alongside a flock of Chilean Flamingos. They were in a dramatic snowy landscape with a backdrop of the Andes - a sight that he will never forget.
Lastly the Bewick's swan -
Cygnus columbianus bewickii

Two species of swan come to the UK each winter: whooper swans migrate from Iceland and Bewick's swans make the journey from Siberia. They both have yellow and black bills and can be difficult to separate. Bewick's swans have more black on their yellow-and-black bill than the Whooper swans, and are the smallest swan species to visit the UK.
Every autumn, Bewick’s swans face a dangerous migration to the UK from northern Russia. Along their 3,500km route between the breeding and wintering sites there are predators, fewer wetlands and the risk of hitting power lines, but if they don’t migrate, they will be caught in the ice and snow of an arctic winter. In spring, they do it all again when they fly back to Russia. It is of great concern that the rapidly changing climate of the Arctic will affect them. Hopefully by late October early November at least 200 Bewick's Swans will have arrived back at Slimbridge for the winter.

 Bewick's Swans by Floodlight -  
 Sir Peter Scott
Bewick's Swans are named after Thomas Bewick (1753 - 1828) the English wood-engraver and natural history author.
This engraving of a Bewick's Swan was done by his son Robert Elliot Bewick in honour of his father.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Mainly Flowers - Part 1

When youngest son and his wife came to stay we spent most of our time out of doors, "birding". Our son is a teacher and an artist who loves nothing better that being out walking in the countryside spotting birds and animals which feature on 99% of his linocut prints. 

The first day we set off along our local canal in the valley below where we live with high hopes of spotting a Kingfisher. 

Our first encounter was with this large family of Mute Swans - Cygnus olor - mother, father, and their seven cygnets. Mute Swans are commonly associated with romance because of their stark white beauty, graceful swimming, and the fact that they mate for life. 

But by late autumn/winter, and once the cygnets have turned white, their parents will drive them off to search for their own breeding territory somewhere other than on their canal.

 You can't go far in this country without a Robin - Erithacus rubecula putting in a friendly appearance.

There was plenty of this orange Balsam Impatiens capensis growing along the edge of the water, and although it is very pretty, rather like its bigger cousin, the Himalayan Balsam, it is a threat to our native plants. Their popping seedpots catapult their seeds far and wide. Both plants were brought into the country by Victorian plant hunters who didn't realise the consquences of their actions.
There was an abundance of Teasels - Dipsacus
fullonum growing along the edge of the canal, and I began to wish that I had picked some as they could look really stunning in a stoneware studio vase. However, their seeds are greatly loved by several birds, especial the goldfinchs, so best to leave them where they are.
Hemp-Agrimony - Eupatorium cannabinum, its dense flower heads have protruding stamens. Surprisingly this plant is not related to Hemp or Agrimony. It's flowers are pollinated by bees, but it is also greatly loved by moths and butterflies too.
Common Bulrush Typha latifolia
Great Bindwind Calystegia sepium was growing prolifically - if only my Blue Morning Glories Ipomoea indica, both members of the same family, would grow like these. This year my Morning Glories were quickly gobbled up by some small creatures in the garden before they even began to bud.  
A Kingfisher was spotted flying rapidly over the water which pleased our son, but it was far too quick for an image to be captured on a camera. 
Mainly Birds Part 2 to follow............

Thursday, 2 September 2021

This Week I had a.......

birthday. Why do they keep turning up so quickly? As a child they took forever to arrive.

We went out during the morning and on our return home found that a long cardboard box had been delivered to our porch. It was very shallow, only about 3cms deep. I opened it and found that it was full of flattened, crushed fresh flowers. Inside was a note which read "hush, we are sleeping - please wake us up gently by following the instructions, and by tomorrow we will have awakened" !!!

And thus they did.

I admire the ethos behind this card received from one of my beautiful granddaughters. 

1. I love the Foxglove illustration - it is one of my favourite wildflowers.

2.The paper is made from 100﹪ recycled materials.

3. It is compostable.

4.The card is embedded with lots of seeds which includes eleven different wildflowers.

5.Wildflowers are good for bees, and good for us.

In the Spring I need to moisten it, and cover it over with a layer of compost keeping it inside until the seeds germinate. Once the seeds are established it can go outside in a sunny spot - watch this space to see what happens next year. 

For a special treat we visited a lovely garden lying at the foot of the beautiful Malvern Hills. It was really lush and colourful, we loved it. I will show more of it another time.

Afterwards we had a date at a charming hotel built during 1904 in the fashionable Arts & Crafts style prevelant during that period. 

Here we enjoyed a delicious Champagne and High Tea treat.

When we finally departed from the hotel we were pleased that we had eaten just a light snack for our lunch.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

A Lockdown Treasure

This tiny enamel pot, thought to be a very small teapot by the owner, had been boxed up in his garage ready to be taken to a local charity. It had belonged to the owners grandfather and assumed to have been acquired whilst he was stationed in the Far East during the Second World War. During lockdown the owner was sorting through the box and decided that may be it looked a bit too special for a charity shop, so he took it to be checked out by a local auctioneer before parting with it. The auctioneer noticed straightaway that it appeared to be 18th century Chinese and could possibly be worth £10,000 or even more. However, whilst researching the pot further the auctioneer realised that it was almost identical to two wine ewers that had been used in the palace of Emperor Qianlong, both of which are now housed in museums. 

Emperor Qianlong

Each of the three wine ewers have identical Qianlong reign marks on the bottom 

One of the ewers is held in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, and the other is in the Palace Museum in Beijing, China.

At this stage the price of the ewer was rapidly revised upwards - maybe it could even fetch £100,000 to £200,000.  

Emperor Qianlong is considered to be one of the greatest Chinese emperors ; did it grace his palace, or could he have even handled it!

A British valet who accompanied his diplomatic master to the Qing court in 1793 described the emperor thus:

The Emperor is about five feet ten inches in height, and of a slender but elegant form ; his complexion is comparatively fair, though his eyes are dark ; his nose is rather aquiline, and the whole of his countenance presents a perfect regularity of feature, which by no means, announce the great age he is said to have attained ; his person is attracting, and his deportment accompanied by an affability, which, without lessening the dignity of the prince, evinces the amiable character of the man. His dress consisted of a loose robe of yellow silk, a cap of black velvet with a red ball on the top, and adorned with a peacock's feather, which is the peculiar distinction of mandarines of the first class. He wore silk boots embroidered with gold, and a sash of blue girded his waist.

Emperor Qianlong in ceremonial armour on horseback
The price of the small wine ewer turned out to be drastically under estimated, in the end it went for £390,000. It is most likely that it has now returned back home to China.

images of the Emperor and his description courtesy wiki.

Friday, 20 August 2021

Tettigonia viridissima

Our youngest son and his wife are coming to stay for a couple of days next week. Last year they kindly gifted me a lovely blue glazed pot for the garden which they had planted up with a late flowering Echinacea 'Leilani' - bright yellow Coneflower. 

I went out to the patio to see whether the flower buds were opening yet in the hopes that they will be blooming in time for their visit, but to my surprise discovered a very large prehistoric looking creature sunning itself on the plant. 

Here's looking at you kid!

It is a Great Green Bush Cricket - Tettigonia viridissima, the largest of all British crickets. In fact it is one of our largest British insects, particularly the adult female, which this one happened to be, measuring roughly 7cms long. I have never come across one before ; apparently they are only found in southern parts of the country.

Looking at her closely it is possible to see many interesting little details. Tiny little spikes running down the legs and the wings appear to closely resemble a leaf, creating good camouflage, as it mainly lives an arboreal life in small trees and scrub.

On this photo you can recognise that it is a female from her ovipositor positioned at the back of the body from which she lays her eggs.
Apart from their large size the
Tettigonia viridissima is disquinishable from other crickets and grasshoppers by their long antennae which can be upto three times their body length. The antennae move up and down and from side to side completely independantly of one another.
She looks as if she is about to head off now.  Fortunately she hasn't dined out on our plant as she is carnivorous preferring to eat flies, caterpillars, and larvae. Although not agressive, they are notorious for giving handlers a painful nip: best to leave them well alone!

Saturday, 14 August 2021

Broughton Castle.........

.........is a fortified medieval manor house in the northern Cotswolds which romantically sits in the middle of a moated island.  The original manor house, much of which still remains today, was built in 13oo. It is the family home of the 21st Lord and Lady Saye & Sele whose family name is Fiennes. Members of their extended family being Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the explorer, and Ralph & Joseph Fiennes, the actors. 

The fact that the same family have lived in the house for over 700 years is clearly reflected in the atmosphere when you enter. With its great chambers, parlours, attics and knot garden, the house is very welcoming and comfortable. 

The owners are not 'precious' about their belongings. If Lady Saye & Sele, who incidentally is 90years old, is around, she will help small children try on the small leather body armour seen hanging along this corridor. 

I suspect that these fresh water clam shells may have been found in their moat. Moats were not only for protection, but were also a very important source of fresh food hundreds of years ago.

Queen Anne of Denmark, wife of James 1, and mother of Charles 1, stayed at Broughton in 1608 with the King and their 14 year old son Prince Henry.

The bedroom she used still retains its original 14th c mullioned windows along with the original box pattern glass.

The view from the bedroom window shows a timeless pastoral English landscape.
The King's Chamber has a bold modern bed designed in a contemporary oriental style. The walls are decorated with Chinese handpainted paper which is in wonderful condition even though it has sat on these walls for well over 300+ years. May be there is a lesson for us all here regarding sustainability!!!

Every feature painted onto the paper is totally unique, nothing is repeated.

We climbed the winding stone stairway to the very top of the house and clambered out onto the rooftop. This gave a great overview of the surrounding area, and the walled knot garden clipped in an attractive fleur-de-lys design.

I loved this hanging oriel window, and the pretty juliet balcony. It was in this area that we met and spoke to Lady Saye & Sele, she was busily deadheading the roses. She is a delightful, friendly lady, who chatted to us for some time. She then bid us farewell and hastened quickly across the lawns to check on her husband. He was sitting beneath one of the very large trees sheltering from the bright sunlight. He will be 101 years old next month. They are a remarkable couple.

We had our visiting family with us which made it an even more extra special day out for us all.