Not too neat

After a winter and spring of neglect, the back garden was looking decidedly untidy. More to the point, I could not effectively feed fruit bushes or plant new flowers in that tangle. So it had to be made more neat and tidy, like traditional gardening. Days and hours later, there is much more to do. Some plant feeding has taken place, albeit far too late in the season, and I’m looking forward to at least some berries off the fruit bushes, roses and flowers in the patio planter.

Here’s the transformation of some fruit bushes. I’ve left some of the weeds and the rampantly spreading Spanish bluebells.

My dreams are now a tangle of pulled up dandelions, buttercups, clumps of grass, goose grass, baby’s tears, bluebells and much more – now considered weeds, where days before I admired their beauty. And the horror of those forced to flee my predations as their damp hidy-holes are uncovered – the scuttling woodlice, centipedes and millipedes, various beetles and spiders, fast- and slow-moving worms – and the discovered slugs and snails consigned to a gluttonous paradise in the compost heap. And the thought that there will be less food and cover for the newts in the pond, and for any visiting frogs. So there are patches of tangle left in messy confusion, providing sanctuary for these friends.

I realise that I am repeating the age-old conflict between the agriculturalist who tills the land for food and flowers, and wild nature living in its own glorious profusion. Maybe Buddha would agree with my solution – a balanced ‘middle path’ between the neat and tidy ‘productive’ soil and nature’s gloriously diverse tangle.

Now for that flower bed by the pond…

Coot family

Baby coots are just so cute. This family was feeding on the lake in the evening sun at Stover Country Park, Devon.

According to the Wildlife Trusts, the saying ‘bald as a Coot’ refers to the white patch, or frontal shield, just above the bird’s bill, rather than its lack of feathers.

Jay in the garden

Eurasian Jays are said to be shy woodland birds rarely moving far from cover. But in winter there’s a much better chance of seeing them. This one was in the old apple tree in our garden, staying for a while to be surreptitiously photographed through the window.

Prettier than the much more visible crows and magpies, to which they are related.

At Hoylake

A sunny day at Hoylake on the Wirral. The view from West Kirby marina shows the dunes nature reserve known as Red Rocks Marsh before the lighthouse, now a private building on Stanley Road, Hoylake.

At high tide we were entranced by huge flocks of knot or dunlin flying up out of the sea, and then settling again, not thinking to take photographs.

The slower pace of sunset gave the chance to savour this place where wet beach and sky are all there is, apart from a small thread of sea or mountains in between…

Looking west over Hoyle Bank
Looking south over Dee Estuary and Welsh mountains
Reeds at the nature reserve

Parkgate and Mostyn House School

The village of Parkgate on the north bank of the Dee Estuary presents a beautiful aspect on a sunny day. The continuous quay of what was once a port, before it silted up, gives a fine aspect on the white buildings set against the nature reserve of the estuary itself. On this occasion we saw lapwings, marsh harriers, great egrets, kestrels, and varous ducks and geese.

The most striking building is Mostyn House School, which I’ve photographed before (for example in this post). This time I looked for more detailed shots against a stunning blue sky.

History of Mostyn House School

The building was not always thus, and has an interesting history. The original building was a hotel for 100 years, linked to the success of Parkgate as a holiday resort, when there was had an outdoor lido. The Mostyn Arms Hotel even had a ballroom. In 1855 the hotel was sold to one Edward Price of Tarvin, who moved his school to Parkgate, but the structure was deteriorating.

“I have never seen such a horrible hole in all my life…” was the comment in 1863 when a new owner’s wife, a Mrs Grenfell, first saw it.

By 1899 the building, again according to her husband, was a ‘decrepit, insanitary wreck’. It was pretty well rebuilt over the next ten years to become the building we see today. A fine job they did, but clearly the building is not as old as you might think!

The school closed in 2010 and the building was subsequently converted to apartments. See timeline.

At the National Memorial Arboretum

A sunny day was forecast, so we decided to visit the National Memorial Arboretum, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The arboretum is part of the Royal British Legion, dedicated to passing on the baton of remembrance of those who served and suffered in Britain’s wars. We did not have any great expectations, other than for a pleasant day out in the sun at a memorial that is but 20 years old.

What a revelation, we were blown away by the rural setting, the trees and natural areas, and particularly the art works that have been created as part of some of the memorials, evocative of many of the less considered victims of war. Most are connected by tarmac paths. And the dog could go most places.

Here’s a small selection showing favourite images from our walk.

Particularly sobering was the large memorial (top left), containing the (around 16,000) names of all those who have died since 1945, in the many wars that the UK has engaged in over my lifetime. Was this all really necessary?

Yes, the experience does bring home the reality and the futility of war.

We will go again.

Featured image is a detail of the police memorial (bottom left), rotated 90deg.
Looks pretty ordinary until you catch the sunlight at the right angle!

Squirrel on roof

It’s boxing day. A grey squirrel has appeared on the back neighbour’s roof. It’s sitting on the hip iron and hasn’t moved for half an hour. How did it get there? Maybe jumped from the neighbouring roof?

What on earth is it ‘doing’? Obviously, nothing. Maybe sizing up the jump to the nearby hedge… Eventually, the neighbour makes a noise and it moves, but still hangs around on the roof until it begins to get dark.

The next day, no evidence remains. Squirrel must have survived whatever leap he took to get off…

The pics are taken from ground level with my Panasonic TZ80 super zoom.

John Polkinghorne

I was sorry to learn of the death of John Polkinghorne in the recent college magazine Trinity Review. John was my director of studies in Applied Mathematics in the early 1960s, the only director of studies I can really remember from my time at university – which says something. He was very approachable and human, although I must record that he did not in the end succeed in inspiring me to a career involving Applied Mathematics.

I subsequently intemittently followed John’s career at a distance, with interest. Although a physicist specialising in quantum mechanics, John “baffled many of his fellow scientists by believing that advances in his field in the 20th century had made it easier to believe in God… he thought it was no less an article of faith to believe that atoms moved according to some hidden law of nature, as many other scientists did, than it was for him to believe they moved according to God’s will.”

In 1979 John left academia to take holy orders, eventually becoming the vicar of Blean, near Canterbury. He later became dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge and a prolific writer about the intersection between science and religion. He was knighted in 1997, but as a clergyman was not called “sir”.

As well as being a fine human being, John was yet another example of the long parade of quantum physicists who have stressed the importance of reconciling science and religion/spirituality, in direct contradiction of the materialistic beliefs of many of today’s so-called scientific disciplines. See eg my post on Mystical Scientists.

It was a privilege to have known him.

Featured image of Trinity College, Cambridge by Mahyar-UK, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sun going down at West Kirby

After Parkgate in the morning we walked by The Marine Lake at West Kirby, with the sun slowly declining over the Clwydian Hills – another spectacular setting.

Not long after low tide, the water was soon covering the sand between West Kirby and Hilbre Island. You can walk there and back, but only at the right place and the right time!

A sunny morning in Parkgate

Parkgate looked wonderful on sunny Wednesday morning, the old quays looking out over the Dee Estuary Nature Reserve towards North Wales and the sea.

Wildlife there was aplenty, but you needed binoculars for most of it – the marsh harrier patrolling, the kestrel hovering, the mass of lapwings landing, the great egret hunting, pools ringed by basking ducks… Just the grey heron was close and still enough for a reasonable photograph (featured image).

And the old Mostyn House School is always so photogenic.

Fungi time

There are lots of fungi about around tree stumps and the damp autumn leaves at the moment. Here are just a few taken on our estate verges with my phone.

Identification is never easy. I’ve given my best estimate of the names. I think the featured image is also common inkcap at another stage. Anyone got a better id?

By ring counting the recently felled dead conifer was about 60 years old, maybe killed by the fungus?

Cormorant 2

We see cormorants quite commonly in UK, in Europe and in US. Few present themselves quite so conveniently as this one, on a post near the promenade at Southport’s Marine Lake.

Unfortunately the light was fading, and there was strong backlighting on the water, so texture on the back could be better.

See also Cormorant.

Great spotted woodpecker 2

This great spotted woodpecker is a frequent visitor to our garden, attracted by the feeding station and also by the trunk of the old apple tree. I noticed it as it set about searching for insects in the nooks and crannies of the tree. The only way to get a shot was through the window – not the best way but necessary, and editing software did a bit of colour correction.

This is an adult, as it does not have the red head of the juvenile in my earlier post. It’s probably the same bird.

I got the impression he saw me behind the glass, as he appears to be looking directly at me in the featured image. Notice that he’s hanging on backwards!

Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar

The girls playing out on the cul de sac on a September evening were huddled together, excited. One of them had found this enormous caterpillar crossing the road – around two inches long. it was the biggest caterpillar any of us had ever seen, even the parents.

What on earth was it? It took some time to identify as the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth, which received its name courtesy of the characteristics of its caterpillar phase. The fake eyes are said to frighten predators off.

This picture from Wikimedia Commons shows what the adult looks like.

Photo of adult elephant hawkmoth by Gail Hampshire, via Wikimedia Commons

Small tortoiseshell 3

It’s getting towards late summer in England,and the small tortoiseshell butterflies have arrived in our garden, at much the same time as they did last year. One sunny morning, the first after a period of rain, there were an incredible 12 basking on our awning and roof, probably newly hatched. They really are rather pretty butterflies.

On white buddleia.
And incredibly hairy.

The feeding proboscis is particularly evident in the following.

Click to see more detail.

Populations are said to be declining, possibly related to habitat loss, pesticides, global warming…

Emperor dragonfly

This beautiful emperor dragonfly was ceaselessly patrolling the pond at Denzell Gardens, Altrincham. He never stopped for an instant, but hovered from time to time at a particular corner. The only photography option was to shoot him in flight, a challenge for my Panasonic ZX200 superzoom.

According the the British Dragonfly Society, they rarely settle, but there is a stunning photograph on their website. The blue abdomen indicates a male.

These are Britain’s bulkiest dragonflies, common in southern England, but their range is said to be moving northward, probably due to global warming.

Gatekeeper

During a recent short, sun-blessed visit to the Wales/Shropshire/Cheshire border area near Whitchurch, we saw lots of gatekeeper butterflies. Although typified as ‘browns’, and with the alternative name of ‘hedge brown’, the upper wings include a colourful orange.

Gatekeepers are more typically associated with southern England, but their range is extending northward, no doubt related to climate change.