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May Ramblings

7th June 2023 @ 2:02pm – by Henbury Webteam
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small blue butterflyhorse chestnut blossom

May 2023

A greyday May Day – but the season moved on regardless. Dot the Dog and I walked up Anderton's Lane and came upon a fresh fox spraint just by Poolside. DtD picked up the trail – the fox must have crossed the lane between opposite fields – but I didn't let her follow it. Further along the lane, just before the track to the cottages, in the hedge bank there were garlic mustard and red campion in flower and the pennywort in the wall was in leaf but not yet in flower.

At home the tadpoles continued to wriggle enthusiastically in our little pool with water hawthorn in flower and the dwarf waterlily putting up leaves. Marsh marigolds (kingcups to some) thrived on our rather boggy "bottom patch". Double wood anemones bloomed and a cultivated variety of wild arum continued its march (mental note – must get it under control!).

As the sun came out for a while an orange tip butterfly fluttered about and more mason bees came out of their nesting tubes. Several bumblebees (buff-tailed and I think red-tailed) scoured the spring flowers in bloom.

A group of swifts flew over and above the fields, some going very high – unmistakeable by their wingshape and tails. Our first sighting.

Coronation Day started warm and sunny – warm enough to walk with Dot the Dog in shirtsleeves. It didn't last. Dot the Dog and I watched a sparrowhawk being chased off by a large (and very cross) crow – it was perhaps big enough to have been a raven but we were not sufficiently close to be sure. The following morning started similarly and I watched from the front bedroom window as a solitary swift quartered Hightree Drive some forty feet up. I wondered if the reflected or stored heat from the (imperfect!) tarmac had got the insects out. Certainly there were lots of midges as DtD and I did the morning walk and they were particularly clustered round my head! As a boy in Suffolk I used to try to shoot them down Biggles style with my water pistol (for younger readers "Biggles" was the pilot hero of a series of WWI stories by Capt W E Johns written for adolescent boys – I think I remain one at heart) ...

Much rain next fell. The fields became waterlogged again (and the lawns became so waterlogged I could not mow – I was not terminally sad..!). However the brief spells of sunshine brought out small tortoiseshell and orange-tip butterflies and a variety of bumble bees. The masons continued to hatch.

Then, off to Suffolk for a week (where S and I grew up – or maybe not in my case). Went to the Harrington Arms in Gawsworth for a pre-trip evening meal (vg). As we got out of the car by the pub the sky was reeling with swifts and swallows and when we came home at dusk the bats were about. DtD in kennels for a week – reluctantly – but when she comes home she is always leaner (and cleaner and meaner).

Back from Suffolk after a wonderful few days – a grand walk over the marshes around Southwold, with swallows and martins galore – and gulls (our hotel car park next Adnams brewery turned out to be "bomb alley"). As we got out of the car when we arrived home we were greeted by tweets (of a non-Twitter kind!) from the bird box under our porch – the chicks keep quiet until food-bearing parents are near. We haven't heard them much since.

I cut paths through the wild flower meadow on the Green the day after we came home. I was only a week later than last year but the extra growth was so much the mower felt a little stressed! The orchids had marched further down the east slope and everything else was coming on. Mysteriously a pyramidal orchid had found a home in one of the herb pots in our garden amidst a crowd of chives and a corn poppy appeared in an unused but not-yet-emptied container – a benefit of having a chaotic garden and they will stay! In Suffolk the ox-eye daisies were already in full bloom, but not yet here.

I spotted an odd-looking bright blue flower on the Green. As I approached to investigate I realised it was a Small Blue butterfly (by name and nature) sunbathing on birds-foot trefoil, one of its main food plants. It's apparently a rarish species especially in the north and under protection (I didn't know all this until I looked it up!). Small whites about too – hope your cabbages have been covered up!

Over the fields with Dot the Dog when she came home from the "Concentration Camp". The cattle had arrived and seemed content. The wire fences had been retensioned and I hope irresponsible dog walkers don't interfere with them as they have before – perhaps a herd of inquisitive steers, although not aggressive, will act as a deterrent. The scent of the freshly-flowering May (hawthorn) was intoxicating – and now clouts can be cast! The horse chestnut tree by the gate into the little top field was covered in pale pink candles, and on the way to Knutsford was one with deep pink, almost crimson, blossom.

A warm (quite hot) sunny morning brought out the mason bees to our bee nests again, egg-laying now, not hatching. Within an hour the remaining unused nesting tubes were occupied and carefully capped with mud. At one point there were four bees egg-laying in the tubes while another four were patiently queueing.

The end of the month brought a succession of warm and at times hot sunny days. Our laburnum tree was a mass of yellow blossom and literally hummed with bees. From my habitual seat at the kitchen table (where I compose this drivel!) I can see the bird feeders. I watched a goldfinch on them feeding a pair of juveniles and obviously trying to show its offspring how to get seed out for themselves. Within a few minutes another adult joined the party on a different feeder, again accompanied by a pair of juveniles and going through the same process.

A bit later a magpie gave its young one a titbit from the bird table – a handsome bird but not good news for smaller birds with nestlings. Magpies have a rather sinister reputation – an old superstition has it that to avoid ill-fortune, if you meet a male magpie on the ground before noon you must tell him how handsome he is – apparently a flying bird doesn't bear the same malign intent. Trouble is, male and female are indistinguishable so I'm always careful to compliment any magpie we encounter on its appearance during Dot the Dog's morning walk or in the garden!

My French tarragon plant in a herb pot outside the back door suddenly became covered with cuckoo-spit (nothing to do with the bird). I don't know where the name came from but it does look just like a blob of spittle. Inside the protective foam is the larva of a frog-hopper (another odd name!) which is a sap-sucking insect that does no harm.

Juvenile starlings abounded, fed on the bird table by fussy parents, and on the feeders house-sparrows replaced the goldfinches as tutors to their offspring "showing them the ropes". You can judge the age of a male house sparrow by the size of its black bib which gets bigger every year – for such small birds they seem to live a long time. I think the ladies don't have a bib. Unusually for this time of year, long-tailed tits appeared too, clearly gathering food for young'uns.

Dot the Dog and I watched the kestrel get its breakfast from the scrub in the field between Henbury and Whirley. We haven't seen it for weeks but she spotted it high up and then it dropped to hover some thirty feet high and a few moments later came down to perhaps ten or fifteen feet before dropping fast on to its prey. I couldn't distinguish what it caught, mouse or vole or shrew, but its flight away had a definitely triumphant air.

Last day of the month started with a grey morning sky and a distinctly chilly breeze. Nonetheless a thrush sang enthusiastically in the whitebeam on the verge by the road and in the sunny dusk a blackbird serenaded us as we ate on the patio. You can tell the difference even if you can't see the chorister – the thrush finds an attractive phrase and repeats it, but the blackbird goes on improvising.

An aside – one of the best things about writing these notes (with help from DtD) is that I notice things that are going on around and about much more than I used to! I do hope anyone who can be bothered to read them will be prompted to see things they hadn't observed before – there's so much going on even in your own garden if you just unglue your eyes and brain from your mobile phone screen!

As ever

Horrid of Henbury

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