Reed Bunting

This reed bunting was an unusual visitor to our garden today. In summer, these birds are more brightly coloured, the male has black head and bib, and they frequent reed beds and marsh grasses. In winter they can’t afford to be so choosy and are often seen on farmland and gardens.

reed bunting 1reed bunting 2

These birds are similar to sparrows, which we never see here these days (although they are around elsewhere in Knutsford). The notched tail, dark head and bib and white collar and underside confirm the rapid identification by my resident expert.

Quality of the photos is not wonderful. We spotted the bird through upstairs windows, and it was preferable to grab quick zoom shots through the panes, rather than open a window, which would almost certainly scare the bird off.

Fieldfare 2

There were several of these birds hiding in the bushes, and coming down to feed on the grass field at Brereton Country Park, whenever there were no dogs nearby. They look a bit like large thrushes, but are actually fieldfare, members of the thrush family. These are regular winter visitors to the UK, and are said to congregate in groups and feed together – similar to the behaviour of redwing.

fieldfare 2 1fieldfare 2 2

You can clearly see the characteristic white underside.

It was almost exactly one year ago that we previously saw fieldfare on the same field. See earlier post. It would seem that they are creatures of habit.

The Panasonic TZ80 in my pocket gave a slightly better zoom image than the TZ200 used last time. In theory, the TZ80 gives stronger zoom, and the TZ200 has a better sensor. For practical purposes there’s not a huge difference!

So That’s It

So that’s it. The sun goes down over Knutsford 31st January 2020, heavy clouds loom. It’s the last sunset we shall see while the UK is in the EU. We are actually out. The UK flag is coming down all over Europe. Winston Churchill’s dream is over for us in the UK, for now – but it is alive and well in the rest of the EU. We wish them well, and hope to join again some day.

Reactions have been remarkably contrasting, notably in the European parliament, where the emotionally mature statements of the European politicians contrasted markedly with the infantile gestures of Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party.

For another 11 months we’ll individually have the privileges of membership, such as freedom to work or retire anywhere in Europe, such as reciprocal medical care when we travel, such as minimal bureaucracy when we take the dog to Europe. Life is likely to be more inconvenient and costly from there on. But that’s nothing compared to the strain on UK people living in EU and and other countries nationals living in UK – it is a nightmare for them. Even for us, it feels that we have been severed from Europe against our will by our fellow citizens – like the branch on this tree.

31jan severed limbs on tree
Severed limb on tree, Knutsford 31 Jan 2020

We now await the Amazing Boris performing the great illusion of Having His Cake and Eating It, just as he did with the Withdrawal Agreement. This time I fear he will fail, falling between Scylla and Charybdis (EU and US). But maybe he is the master illusionist?

If only there had been an evident good reason for Brexit, it might have all seemed worthwhile, rather than being an unnecessary diversion from the real issues we (and Europe) face!

Snowdrops in the rain

A cold, miserable January afternoon, raindrops falling on the pond – not very promising for photographs. Then I spotted these snowdrops in our planter, with the pond surface in the background.

snowdrops

Not bad for a photograph taken through the window glass with my easily-to-hand point-and-shoot Panasonic TZ80.

Tinder Fungus

These rather fine specimens of tinder fungus, or fomes fomentarius, sat proudly on a dead silver birch stump in Brereton Country Park. These bracket fungi were quite large, around 1 foot in height.

This species typically continues to live on trees long after they have died, changing from a parasite to a decomposer, helping the dead wood to rot.

The name derives from the fact that it was found to be useful as tinder in making fire.

tinder fungus 1tinder fungus 2

This could be the identity of the queried oyster shell fungus in an earlier post, which was found in the same woods.

Neumann’s Flash

Neumann’s Flash was formed when a salt mine collapsed in 1873. The Northwich salt mines had expanded rapidly without due safeguards, so inadequate supports were left to hold up the ground overhead.

A chemical industry developed around the production of salt, so the enormous holes created by this collapse, and the even more dramatic collapse of the nearby Ashton’s Flash in 1880, were in the 1950s used to dump lime waste. After dumping ceased, nature gradually began to recover and since the 1970s the area has been gradually developed into a country park, now part of the Mersey Forest initiative. Yes nature will recover, if given half a chance. See the story here.

Today, this is a great area for walking and birding, joining up with the nearby Anderton and Marbury parks.

neumans sunset

The picture shows Neumann’s Flash from one of its three hides, with a fair sprinkling of birds on the water, as the sun slowly sinks towards the horizon.

The featured image is a crop of the central area.

At the Hustings

We’re into the last week of the UK General Election, so we went to the local hustings, in Alderley Edge. As background, Tatton is a Conservative safe seat currently held with a huge majority (58% of voters, Labour second) by ex-minister Esther McVey.

The hustings were held in a church and chaired by the vicar. Candidates answered questions put by selected members of the audience.

Esther McVey largely stuck to the party line – get Brexit done, with little detail on anything else. She was bemused as to why there were more food banks today than 10 years ago, and why politics is now so divisive. It seems it was all caused by Labour’s creating the financial crash of 2008 and leaving the country in a mess. Nothing to do with the banks and Tory policy in the intervening years, then. Derisive laughter met her attempts to explain why police numbers had been reduced by 20000, which were now going to be replaced, and similar apparent reversals on education and NHS.

The Labour Party candidate James Weinberg came over as confident and dynamic, reeling off a plethora of attractive-sounding policies across the piece, including the green new deal. This young man gives confidence in the future of our politics. While doubts must remain on whether the Labour programme is over-ambitious, he did sensibly point out that their proposals are in fact only returning UK public spending levels to be comparable to other European countries.

Generally, Weinberg got the applause and McVey the derision. However, there was clearly a silent mass of Conservative supporters who murmured assent when their buttons were pressed.

The Liberal Democrat candidate Jonathan Smith gave fair answers, generally on similar lines to Labour. Many things came back to staying in Europe. While this is true, it does not seem to have sufficient traction in the current environment – there seems to be a feeling that Brexit must be closed off by realisation or by referendum. Sadly, the Lib Dem message is still sullied by the coalition years that established the current Conservative hegemony.

Green Party candidate Nigel Hennerley correctly pointed out that climate breakdown is the real issue facing us all, and now is the time to act. I suspect the hidden majority in Tatton will only agree with him when Cheshire fields are under ten feet of water, and forest fires threaten Alderley Edge itself.

Jonathan did point out that Tatton is probably the most unequal constituency in the country. Of course that means there is no chance of McVey being deposed. The silent majority at home will vote Tory to retain a status quo that suits them well.

Indeed, any vote for Jonathan or Nigel is essentially wasted; only Labour has any chance of removing the incumbent. Our first-past-the-post system is really quite iniquitous.

Photograph from Alderley Edge by JarrahTree via Wikimedia Commons

Oyster Shell Fungus?

Here’s another bracket fungus, living on a dead beech branch at Brereton Country Park. At first glance it might be a discarded oyster shell, but I don’t think that features in its identifying name – it’s possibly related to Trametes hirsuta or hairy bracket.

oyster shelllike fungus

I rather like the fortuitous juxtaposition of the fungus and the dead oak leaf on the dead branch.

Underneath there was a fallen comrade in its death throes.

fallen comrade

My autofocus apparently failed to find any point in focus, probably as there was little light under there. The subdued effect is quite pleasing.

Of course these things are not edible, which is quite apparent just looking at them.

Wall Wood

Situated near the entrance to Tatton Park, Knutsford’s Wall Wood is hardly a wood, more a grove of trees, triangular with roads on two sides. Enter one of the two paths running through it and you are suddenly isolated from the busyness of the traffic, refreshed for the moments it takes to stroll through. Even a small number of trees can have such an effect.

The wood is currently magnificently carpeted with fallen leaves.

wall wood

I’ve also heard this space called the walled garden; maybe at some time it was walled and contained a garden of fruit trees? (pure speculation)

The only camera to hand was my smartphone. The afternoon light was beginning to fail, so a bit of editing was needed to bring back the colours as I remembered them.

Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle

This long (more than an inch) black beetle was all but invisible on the stony path I was walking on in Tatton Park. I had no great hopes for the photograph, but the image comes up reasonably well with a bit of brightening up.

devil's coachhorse

I think this is a Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle. Apparently, this is one of 46000 species of the rove beetle family, a fast and ferocious night time predator. And it has a nasty bite and can emit a foul smelling odour. I had sort of intuited that it was an unsavoury character!

The segmented abdomen allows it to curl the tail up, like a scorpion. Neither the Wildlife Trusts (above link) nor Wikipedia explains why – I’d guess it’s for balance.

Red Admiral

Our buddleia continues to attract more butterflies than we have seen for many years – more like they used to be in earlier decades. We have even seen several red admirals at the same time.

What a difference bright sunlight makes to the vibrancy of the colours, really picking out the zebra-style antennae.

The underwing shown in the featured image is quite unexpected.

Hottest Day

It has been England’s hottest ever July day. The air is hot and humid, more like summer in Houston. Becalmed all day, without the air conditioning that is regarded as necessary in Houston, I have to take a walk in the evening, now it is slightly cooler, despite impending rain.

We are lucky that Knutsford has a number of smallish green areas. As I walk I become aware of just how hot and oppressive are the streets around the town, heat emanating from the terraced houses and roads. Entering the parks there is an immediate change of atmosphere, cooler, more breezy. The grassy areas, surrounded by trees, have a different feel again, still refreshing. The small ‘walled wood’ is another perceptibly different environment, completely enveloped and protected by trees. By the lake that is the Moor pool a different quality comes from the relatively cool water.

In short, contact with nature – trees, grass, water – makes the extreme heat tolerable. More trees and lakes will not only slow global warming but make its effects more tolerable. More bricks and concrete make things worse. This is common sense, yet we don’t act like it is. The only alternative will be islands of air conditioning for those that can afford it, as in Houston.

As I return home, spots of the anticipated rain begin to fall. The roadside trees help my brisk walk home, removing the need for that umbrella. I pause gratefully in the relative cool under our beautiful weeping birch, before going back into the oven-like house.

Featured image taken in the shade of our weeping birch tree.

Painted Lady

Painted lady butterflies are sometime migrants to the UK. We’ve seen a lot this year, so this must be a bumper year when they come here in large numbers.

painted lady.jpg

These painted ladies were around thistles on local farmland. They have a certain faded grandeur, compared to the vibrant colors of the young, but this is maybe not too surprising considering the long migration.

Here today…

The other day I was entranced by the pink and yellows of the grasses and flowers on Knutsford’s Small Heath. The fuzzy pink of the grass seeds offsets the yellow of the profusion of dandelions and buttercups. With only smartphone to hand, these were the pictures I took.

Sadly, this beauty is no more. The next day the grass cutters came and all was mown down, a rather dramatic illustration of the transience of nature’s beauty, and of the insensitivity of bureaucratic timetables.