Magpies are common in UK, and can be a bit of a pest, thieving food intended for other birds. But catch them in the right light and they can be rather beautiful, like the above recent shot from Tatton Park.
They are particularly active in spring, with spells of amorous behaviour interspersed with avid feeding from what they can find in the ground.
The featured image could be of a swamp in Texas, but it’s actually alongside the small lake known as Booths Mere in Knutsford. We’ve known this lake exists for many years, but only recently got to see it close up, as we discovered a short stretch of the bank that is accessible.
Otherwise, it’s private land reserved for fishing. This is a great shame, as it could be a valuable local amenity for walkers. Maybe one day…
You can see a small jetty, presumably used for fishing purposes.
There are some venerable trees around the bank, this one with magnificent roots visible.
It’s spring blossom time. One of the first out in the hedgerows was the blackthorn. Contrary to the similar hawthorn, blackthorn gets the flowers out first, with leaves following later. At a distance, there is an ephemeral feeling to the vista presented by blackthorn en masse, as in the featured image from Anderton Country Park.
Closer in the individual branches have their own lacy beauty, especially set against the recent blue sky.
Blackthorn is also called sloe, and its fruits are used to make sloe gin. And the wood was traditionally found suitable for making walking sticks.
The weeping willows by Knutsford’s Moor Pool are now well out, and trees and hedgerows are covered with new hawthorn leaves. Third in line of the big deciduous trees to come out with leaves is… the horse chestnut.
The lockdown goes on. Knutsford’s King Street is full of restaurants and usually (ie pre-covid) very busy early evening as people size up where to eat or drink. Now deserted and, apart from this short stretch, largely in darkness.
My phone’s camera has made a fair go at conveying the extreme contrast in lighting, but its representation of the sky is rather optimistic, better than the real thing!
The current UK government roadmap says we return to ‘normal’ opening of restaurants on 17 May. We shall see!
With the lighter days, some shrubs are beginning to show leaf. Most trees are still bare, some with catkins, like the featured pussy willow. But now the hawthorn is coming into leaf, second only to the willow (earlier post).
Soon all will be covered in leaves, all in the rush of the new energies of rapidly increasing light, of the spring equinox.
The county of Cheshire contains a number of smallish lakes, or meres. Many date back to the glacial period of the last ice age, ‘occupying hollows in the glacial drift surface of the Cheshire Plain’ (see itemised list). The lake in Tatton Park, known as Tatton Mere, is one of these meres of glacial origin.
Just north west of the top of Tatton Mere lies a smaller lake, named Melchett Mere, but at a noticeably lower elevation. Is this another glacial lake? It seems not. Cheshire also has a history of salt extraction and mining, notably in the area around nearby Northwich and Wincham from the 17th century. Uncontrolled mining activity led to great subsidences of ground and the formation of lakes, such as the notorious Ashton’s and Neumann’s flashes near Wincham.
Effects of the salt mining activites, and particularly wild brine pumping, were often felt many miles away. According to the National Trust, Melchett Mere in Tatton Park was formed by a sudden collapse in 1922. The resulting lake was named by Lord Egerton after the then chairman of the extractive company he believed to have been responsible (presumably Henry Mond, 2nd Baron Melchett, who became deputy chairman of ICI in the 1940s).
Subsidence due to brine pumping activities is serious business in Cheshire, as evidence by the existence of the Brine Subsidence Compensation Board. Some of the land in this area is still subsiding. Notably this lies on the proposed route for the HS2 high speed train. I hope those guys know what they’re getting into!
Thank God the days are gone when dead trees were removed from the landscape, part of an obsession with tidiness that took little account of the web of life in which we are embedded. The dead tree is an ecosystem containing countless organisms and fungi, all about the miraculous job of reducing solid wood back to the soil it came from.
Our National Trust now usually leaves trees where they fall in the landscape. This one at Tatton Park was probably once a spectacular oak tree, now gracefully yet vulnerably declining back to its origins.
Thus individual life emerges from the collective, lives and flourishes, and eventually dies and returns home.
The recent spell of dry sunny weather has seen ever increasing signs of the coming of new life in the spring. Many crocuses and daffodils are already past their best. As usual, the willow is the first tree to show signs of life, while the branches of others are still bare.
This year, more than most, we psychologically need the boost of burgeoning life that comes with spring.
There is no time like Spring, When life’s alive in everything,
UK dragonflies tend to be so active that they are difficult to photograph. But these North American green darners at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas, March 2019, were just basking on the footpath in the sun.
They are so-called because of the supposed resemblance to a darning needle. Any young readers will probably say ‘What the heck is that?’.
There are usually a good number of American alligators, locally called gators, at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas. Most lie in the water, as in the featured image. A few warm up in the sun on the banks of the lakes/swamp, sometimes just feet away from the visitor path. They are pretty docile, and probably well fed, but it is well to be wary.
This proximity does give the opportunity for close-ups of those craggy reptilian bodies.
I think that the open mouth was just a convenient resting position, and not the anticipation of a good snack!
These animals can grow to 4 metres long and weigh over 400 kg.
We’ve been fortunate to visit Brazos Bend State Park in Texas a number of times over the years. Apart from the more exotic birds (from a European perspective) there appeared to be plenty of coots and moorhens, just as on most lakes in the UK.
However, the loquacious and overactive ‘moorhens’ did not appear to behave at all like those in UK. Yes this was usually the mating season around March, but surely these were not the same species. A web search shows that they are common gallinules, which were given a separate categorisation from moorhens only in 2011. Their mating behaviour is quite spectacular!
Moorhens are one of our commonest water birds, and indeed are quite common worldwide, under names such as marsh hen or common gallinule. These members of the rail family appear fairly undistinguished, so are not first choice photographic subjects. I’ve tried over the years, but he result is usually not particularly impressive.
Here a strong low afternoon sun brought out the brown colours in the body, which usually appears black.
Their gait is quite ungainly, which does make for an interesting profile when backlit.
Tatton Park is home to two species of free-ranging deer. Most easily seen are the spectacular red deer, which often congregate near to the Knutsford entrance. More numerous are the smaller fallow deer. These are much more timid, so tend to stay away from the areas popular with people.
Recently, this grazing group presented a pretty picture, with one sentinel alert and standing guard – probably checking our dog was on his lead.
There’s a comparison of antlers for male red and fallow deer in this post.
Our recent walk around the local Shakerley Mere showed some unusual visitors, in addition to the usual ducks, Canada geese, grebes, swans and the odd heron. There were cormorants in the trees, but also three unusual ‘ducks’. It soon became apparent that these were not dabblers, as they sped around the lake much faster than a mallard, diving under water for periods in the manner of grebes. Their speed made for difficult photography. This was the best one, at the limits of my pocket superzoom.