The Matter of Magpies

I am returning to one of my favourite subjects, and certainly one of my favourite places, for today’s blog post ~ Benhall woods.

According to records, there have been woods of some sort in this area since at least 1230. But the woods that we see today are much more recent. I have lived opposite Benhall park and near the woods, for almost 40 years now.  It is a delight to have such a wild and wonderful place in the heart of our residential area.  It is filled with Silver Birch, hazel and oak trees as well as blackberry bushes.

I used to bring my children here to play when they were very young.  Then, as teenagers, they would play endlessly among the trees, riding their bikes (BMXs in those days), over the natural obstacle course formed long ago by the spoil from the construction of the railway that runs alongside.  The bumps, dips and trenches make a perfect playground and the fallen trees add to the excitement and interest, providing endless hiding places and material for dens.

These days I bring my grandchildren to play in the woods and they love it just as much.  There are always squirrels to spot and birds galore, including owls and woodpeckers that nest high up in the trees. The woodpecker even has a tree named after him as he has pecked so many holes in it. Smaller birds then nest in these holes. We regularly see a very arrogant Buzzard sitting on the ground, or pestering the life out of the other birds who angrily chase it off.

There is a stream running alongside the woods through the park.  In the stream there are ‘millers’ thumb’ fish, and sometimes a heron or a great egret fishing for them!

In spring there is a carpet of snowdrops growing around the edges of the wood, followed later by banks of bluebells in wild areas where nettles flourish.

But I want to focus on a strange event that I observed recently in the woods.

Even when I do not have the grandchildren, I have to take my dog for a walk, and she loves the woods. We go in all winds and weathers and always feel relaxed and at ease among the sturdy trunks.

But one day recently the woods seemed different, darker, and more threatening. I have heard of the mysterious event referred to as a, ‘parliament of magpies’, but I had never experienced it before now. The canopy of every tree in the woods was literally alive with magpies. I have often seen one or two and sometimes up to 12 in the nearby fields, but I have never seen this many all in one place. There were dozens of them and they were not happy to have me and my dog wandering about in the woods. I clearly felt as if I were interrupting them by my presence. They grew very agitated flying from tree to tree, swooping and squawking loudly, as if to scare us away. And, I have to say it worked! I felt most uncomfortable and was worried in case they attacked my dog or me! So, we hastily left the woods and I swear that I heard a sigh of satisfaction as we did.

There are all sorts of folk tales, superstitions and nursery rhymes about birds in general and magpies in particular. As a child I would hold my collar if I saw a magpie until I saw a second one, to avoid bad luck. And I still remember the old rhyme

One for sorrow, Two for joy

Three for a girl, and four for a boy

Five for silver, six for gold

Seven for a secret never to be told ….

You may know more verses and I’d love to hear your tales about magpies. Meanwhile enjoy my photos of the woods throughout the year.

 

For those of you interested in history and heritage ~ When I first arrived in my little corner of the Cotswolds 50 years ago it was a very rural scene.   I lived on the edge of the countryside with farms and fields all around. There was some post war prefabricated housing nearby, and a few ancient cottages such as Redgrove Cottages and Arle Court Lodge. All of these still exist. There was one unobtrusive industrial area with factories linked to the aviation industry, and their offices were in a manor house known as Arle Court. The manor was built in the mid1800s to replace the Butt family’s original Elizabethan house of the same name. In 1935 Sir George Dowty purchased and restored the house, and it became the heart of the Dowty Aircraft business. You can read more about it here

https://www.dowtyheritage.org

Cotswold Wildlife Park

 

Thea loves taking photos

One of my favourite places in the Cotswolds is the wildlife park at Burford. It is a very special place to me as the birth and development of the zoo and gardens has run parallel to that of my family.

I dread to think how much money I have spent here over the years, on entry fees, snacks in the café, whippy ice creams, train rides, and the dreaded gift shop! But I believe every penny was well spent for the pleasure it has brought to me and my family.  Not only that, but the money funds lots of conservation work here and abroad.

The wildlife park was opened by John Heyworth during the Easter holidays in 1970, which is just after my first child was born. It is set in the grounds of a beautiful house, Bradwell Grove, which was his childhood home.  In 1970 it cost five shillings (25p) for entry in pre-decimal currency.  These days it costs me £10 as I am officially ancient.  However, as I go so often, I buy a season ticket for £50, which means I can go whenever I like.

Normally the park is open every day except Christmas day. But this year the winter has been so atrocious that the park has been closed on several days due to snow or waterlogged grounds.

Originally there were lots of animals to see including wallabies, tapirs, llamas, hornbills and flamingos. Soon a reptile house was developed.   Then, rhinos and zebras arrived in 1972 when my second child was born.  And, the very popular little railway was opened in 1975 when my third child arrived.  That was followed by insects which I have never been very keen on, and butterflies in glass houses.  Following on from the birth of my fourth and final child, leopards, tigers and bats arrived at the park.

By the time my grandchildren arrived there were lions, giraffes, owls, different types of monkeys, wolves, camels, meerkats and adorable penguins. One of the great attractions these days is the petting area where children can play with goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs and rabbits.  There is also a super adventure playground, which, being an over-anxious granny, I try to steer clear of.

Sadly, John Heyworth died some years ago. He must have been a fascinating man with a great love for animals and plants.  Apparently as a child he kept many pets, including rabbits, grass snakes, slow worms and a toad that he found in the garden.  Over the years, as a schoolboy, he added terrapins, tortoises and newts to his menagerie of birds, ducks and slowworms.

This reminds me of my dear friend and roommate at college, Pat, who kept her own menagerie of assorted hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs in our tiny room.  She also had a tiny Shetland pony who lived nearby and travelled with us everywhere in the back of a mini with the seats removed!  When we moved to a marginally bigger flat after college, she added snakes, which she kept in the bath!

Nowadays I look after my gorgeous 3-year-old granddaughter, Thea, every Tuesday, and we make a beeline for the wildlife park. Thea’s favourite animal is the white rhino.  This year she was thrilled to meet Belle the little baby rhino.  Belle was born with a leg problem which meant she had to be hand reared and fed from birth.  Thea is very family oriented so she loves to see the mummy and daddy animals with their babies.  I have to say there is something very appealing about seeing large wild animals like rhino, giraffe and zebra breast feeding their small offspring.

I believe our wildlife park visits have nurtured a great love and respect for animals in all of my children and grandchildren.  Here are some of our photos taken over the years and as recently as this week.

 

 

 

A City in a Forest

Souls entwined at the Peace Pagoda

This weekend I visited relatives who live in Willen, very close to the North Lake.  Willen is one of the dozen or so ancient villages that were absorbed when the new town of Milton Keynes was built 50 years ago.  I remember driving through the area with my father when the town was being built.  I was fascinated by the ‘grid system’ of the roads, horrified by the number of roundabouts and underpasses, and amazed by the number of tree-lined cycle paths.  Driving through the city again this weekend, I was amused by the street names, delighted by the beauty of the trees and parks, and relieved to see that some of the old villages have still retained their individual identity and historic buildings.

My dream house

There are two lakes in Willen, North and South and both are beautiful in very different ways.   South Lake, and the park it is set in, is a hive of activity.  On the lake there are facilities for water sports like canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, and paddle sports, as well as an area for fishing.  In the park there are areas for golfing, cycling, football, table tennis, aerial adventures, jogging and gymnastics; as well as a wonderful children’s adventure playground.

In total contrast, North Lake is set in the most serene park I have ever visited.  It is a designated and protected wildlife and nature reserve and there are waders and waterfowl galore.  There is also a Peace Pagoda, the first ever built in Western Europe.   It was built by monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myoholi as a symbol of world peace and is meant to promote unity among all the peoples of the world regardless of race, creed, or border.   It opened in September 1980.   In front of the pagoda stand two creatures from Japanese legend.   Shishi, the paired lion-dogs are said to have magical powers that repel evil.

peace-pagoda-with-lions.jpg

Near the pagoda is the Buddhist Temple as well as Japanese and Zen gardens.   There is such an air of serenity around the pagoda and the Temple.  It draws me to it.

Near the temple is a medicine wheel of stones, which looks a bit like the ancient stone circle at Avebury.   It is said that a ley line passes through this area and close by is a single ‘needle’ stone that catches the rising midsummer sun.  There certainly are a lot of mystical and spiritual influences in the area of Willen and Milton Keynes.  If you are interested you can read more at this link.

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There is so much to see on and around the lake.  I was very impressed by all the artwork.  There is a fascinating Labyrinth and a beautiful pure white memorial statue named ‘Souls in Love’.  The sight of this statue aligned with a pure white swan and the white peace pagoda gleaming in the setting sun was totally stunning.  Of course my photos, taken with my phone, don’t do it justice; but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

souls-entwined-and-souls-flying-free.jpg

While I was at the lakeside I saw waders and waterfowl galore, as well as the most spectacular murmuration of starlings as dusk fell.  A group of ‘twitchers’ with very impressive cameras was gathered at the edge of the lake to watch the amazing aerial display.  There must have been thousands of birds flying so close together that they seem to move as one.  I watched them swoop and soar as they selected just the right spot to roost for the night.  As they got closer and the sky got darker, the sound of their wings was deafening, then silence fell as they all settled.  The whole spectacle was breathtaking, a beautiful ballet.  Do watch this video if you have never witnessed a murmuration or check out these fabulous photos from the Guardian.

All in all a very enjoyable weekend.

Kew dinnertime

Kew dinnertime

My photos for the weekly photo challenge come from my visit to Kew Gardens.  The weather was so glorious that visitors and school groups chose to eat outside in the beautiful surroundings.

Kew Gardens are in Richmond, London and we went there yesterday for a Spring time coach trip with Carers Gloucestershire.  This is a wonderful charity that can be a real lifeline for both carers and the cared-for.  For myself it provided a very rare opportunity to go somewhere beautiful with my husband and enjoy a stress free day.  The volunteers and staff of Carer’s Gloucestershire did everything they could to make the day as relaxing as possible.  I am deeply grateful to them for their organisation, their practical support and the funding that subsidised the trip.

The weather was glorious with blue skies and warm sunshine ~ just perfect for seeing the abundant cherry blossom, exotic magnolia and camellia, fabulous fritillaries, drifts of daffodils in the gardens, and woodlands blanketed in bluebells in this glorious and historic park.

Apart from the beautiful plants and impressive landscapes at Kew, we saw some lovely lakes with swans nesting, ducks flying or ambling about, and grumpy geese arguing with each other.  We also saw Jays, peacocks, and lots of noisy green parakeets, which have taken up residence in the trees and are the cause of lots of damage to fruits and buds we were told.

We loved the historic buildings and mock roman ruins situated near the gateways, which also sport beautiful sculptures.  My favourite was the Unicorn near the Victoria Gate.

There are some truly enormous glass buildings, including the world’s largest Victorian greenhouse, which was closed for restoration while we were there.  I can’t wait to see it when it opens.  But the Palm House, Orangery, and various conservatories were open to view.

Sadly, it was impossible to see everything in just one afternoon.  I walked miles as it was and only managed to see about a quarter of the gardens.  There is a road train which does a tour taking an hour and a half which would have been a good idea, but there is nothing better than just walking around soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful park.

I really hope to be going back!

I have posted just some of my photos below, but if you want to read the fascinating history of Kew Gardens and how Henry V111 was involved in it click on

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/8301243/A-history-of-Kew-Gardens.html

or http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens

Nature in Motion

My friendly long tailed tit landing

My friendly long tailed tit landing

This photo is a fluke but I love it.  I had been hoping to get a photo of my cheeky, but very friendly, fledgling long tailed tit as he pays his daily visit to my door.  I snapped quickly with my phone and this is the result.  It is literally as he is landing and it looks as though his feathers are screeching to a halt.  He is still learning how to fly after all ~ And I’m still learning about photography!

One of the things I love about blogging is communicating with fascinating people who enjoy the same things as I do.  Recently, through various posts, I have discovered that Sarah Longes who blogs “One Day at a Time” at Mirador Design, loves garden birds as much as I do. Recently we were conversing in the comments section about all the fledging birds we have in our gardens.  In mine there are robins, blue tits, blackcaps, blackbirds, pigeons, sparrows, chaffinches and a very cheeky long tailed tit.  This little bird is a bit of a rebel.  While all the others are happy to hop about under the apple trees or sit on the fence, this sociable little bird gets very close and personal on a daily basis.  His mother must despair of him. He shows no fear, but great curiosity, as he flies right up to my french windows and perches on the door handle.  He seems to enjoy watching me as I potter about the house and when I sit down by the window he stares straight into my eyes.  It truly is amazing and I have got so used to it that I look forward to seeing him now.  I will be really sad when he grows up a bit and flies off to pastures new. I promised Sarah I would take some photos of him so here they are.  They qualify in a post on ‘Motion’ as they show my little bird landing and getting ready for take off.  I love the blurred one as it literally caught him as he landed and it looks like he had to do an emergency stop!

My last group of photos are from a day out by the lake yesterday.  While my husband was enjoying his fishing I was amused by a family of ducks.  There was a mother and father and 9 ducklings which were obviously very young.  8 of them were very adventurous and wandered off all over the lake but one seemed quite nervous and often stayed very close to mum.  It was charming to watch so i took lots of photos of the ducklings in motion.

Early Bird

Reward 10

This early bird got more than one worm!

 

Goodness this weeks photo challenge was a nightmare for me.  I’m often awake early but the thought of getting out before dawn with a camera or anything else for that matter is anathema to me.

There have been times of course when travelling, that early starts have been enforced.  You can read about my trips to Lourdes or America by clicking the links.  But I am really an evening person.  I would happily do housework at midnight or write poetry and my journal at 2am.  But I don’t really come back to life before 8.30 in the morning.

However, I did make a special effort just for the challenge and was rewarded, not by a visual revelation as it was quite dull, but by the dawn chorus of birds.  There was an owl hooting plaintively in the woods over the road and countless little birds singing their hearts out in the bushes in my garden.  I know their song is just a warning to competitors to stay away but it does sound delightful.  I wish you could hear it!

5.20am from my front window

5.20am from my front window

I did however want to make my day worthwhile by taking more photographs so I am posting photographs of the early apple and cherry blossom in my garden.  A bit of a cheat I know but I hope you enjoy them.  We are having a wonderful spring, warm, sunny and dry so the blossom is perfect.

Reward ~ Weekly Photo Challenge

I enjoyed this Weekly Photo Challenge!

Fry's Five Boys

Fry’s Five Boys

I was what was known as a sickly child in the 1940s and 50s.  It turned out that I had Rheumatic Fever which left me with a variety of problems and no appetite (how times have changed!).  Because of this I was often unwell and my mum would get me Lucozade and a bar of Fry’s Five Boys Chocolate with Five Centres.  I guess it could be called a reward because 60 years later I remember every sensory detail!

Five Centres was produced from 1934 to 1992.  It was similar to today’s Fry’s Chocolate Cream in that it had a dark chocolate coating, with fondant inside.  But instead of peppermint cream there were five different flavoured fondant centres. In the early days they were strawberry, orange, raspberry, lemon and pineapple, all of which I loved.  In later years coffee, lime, and blackcurrant replaced strawberry, lemon and pineapple but I don’t remember ever having those.

The wrapper was deep blue and it had what looked like 5 boys’ photos on it.  But really they were just one boy in a sailor suit who was photographed with five different facial expressions.  The photo was taken in 1885 and the boy was called Lindsey Poulton.  He was, appropriately, 5 years old.  His father and grandfather took the photos and Fry’s chocolate company in Bristol paid them the considerable sum of £200 for exclusive use of the set.  The photos appeared in adverts and in shop windows for years.  As my grandfather had a little general store in Newcastle on Tyne in the 1950s the enamelled metal sign on the outside wall was very familiar to me.

I’m very grateful to pocketbookuk for explaining the facial expressions and I would urge you to take a look at their fascinating blog.

The five faces of Fry’s Five Boys chocolate on an enamelled metal sign. Desperation – no chocolate, Pacification – the promise of chocolate, Expectation – the prospect of chocolate, Acclamation – happiness at receiving chocolate, and Realization – eating the chocolate, and discovering that it is a Fry’s milk chocolate bar!

 

I can’t really leave out a couple of photos of my grandson and his rewards.  He is such an active lad, 11 now and always busy so he is used to getting rewards for his labours.  He is a boy scout and his uniform is covered in the badges he has earned.  He also plays football for his school team and a local team.  He sometimes plays in goal and is often man of the match, receiving cups and plaques as his reward.

Being a nature lover I have to include a few photos of rewards in the natural world.  Firstly there is Jock, the silver backed gorilla who lives in a family of 6 at Bristol Zoo and is a very popular animal.  He is so magnificent and such a good role model for his youngsters that he deserves lots of fruit as his reward.

The robin created a grand residence in a large plant tub in my garden.  He and his made laid one egg then disappeared.  I was really worried that they had abandoned their nest with this egg in it.  But weeks later they returned and more eggs appeared.  Apparently this is quite normal and the first egg hatched out with the others which surprised me.  I was so pleased to see the robins back that I overcame my squeamishness and rewarded them with a daily quota of live mealworms.

The beautiful carp was the first fish I ever caught ~ reward for my hours of patient fishing

Lastly the basket of apples were a reward for finding a beautiful open orchard in a church yard.  No-one seemed to be collecting these gorgeous fruits so i helped myself to as many as I could carry after checking with the vicar!

I have to say one of my favourite rewards after a day out is a whippy ice cream.  I share this passion with my husband and grandchildren!

Reward for walking all day in the heat at Bristol Zoo

Reward for walking all day in the heat at Bristol Zoo

 

 

The Cuckoo Returns

Cuckoo signals the arrival of Spring in UK

Cuckoo signals the arrival of Spring in UK

Children back to school
Spring holiday is over
The Cuckoo returns

This morning I heard a nearby cuckoo for the first time this year from my garden in the UK. It is amazing to think that many of these cuckoos have wintered in the Congo, having endured tempestuous weather in Europe, flights over the Sahara desert, and droughts in many places, since leaving the rainforests of Africa. They arrive in the UK between the end of March and mid-April. As everyone here knows, they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and then abandon them to the care of the resident bird. Once hatched, they take over the nest, being so much bigger than their host. They especially like the nests of meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers. This is a bit worrying for our local garden birds as we have a few Dunnocks as well as lots of Blue Tits, fat pigeons and some Robins.
The cuckoo is a dove-sized bird with blue grey upper parts, head and chest with dark barred white under parts. Because of their sleek body, long tail and pointed wings they can be confused with kestrels or sparrowhawks. The male and the female are similar and the young cuckoos are brown. Cuckoos are in decline so I suppose we have to protect them even though we don’t like their squatting habit!
They do of course herald in the spring and for that we are truly grateful
Links you might find interesting:
http://www.arkive.org/cuckoo/cuculus-canorus/
http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking

Its a Perfect day

Stanley finds pegs fascinating

Stanley finds pegs fascinating


One of the songs sung by the choir I belong to at our recent concert is Perfect Day.
Laughter and Lyrics Choir

Laughter and Lyrics Choir

Today has been just perfect. It is usually called Grandma day as I look after Stanley on Wednesdays and Thursdays. But today it was Turtle Day as I had bought a turtle shaped sand pit for him to play in.
Stanley really is a delight in every way and just spending time with him makes me feel wonderful.
It was especially good today for two reasons
1. We have both been feeling very unwell until today, with chest infections followed by throat infections
2. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky and it was lovely and warm.
Stanley usually arrives at 8am to be greeted by my little dachshund, Dayna who races out of the front door to greet him. They both then race in to get to the best armchair ~ Dayna, and the Chuggington corner ~ Stanley. Now when my children were little it was all Thomas the Tank engine and I do feel a bit disloyal saying this but Chuggington is just so much more exciting! I have collected all the trains ~ wooden and die-cast, some track, two carrying cases, a hard back story book and a floor layout for imaginative play. Now Stanley is only 16 months old but he plays with Chuggington things for hours. He ‘rides the rails’ around, across and under furniture whether or not the dog is sitting on it, he builds tunnels with mega bricks (or grandma’s legs), and he drives the trains in and out of their sheds in the carrying cases endlessly. He just never seems to tire of it. At lunchtime as a special treat he gets to watch an episode of Chuggington which I have pre-recorded while he eats what I have prepared. I have 78 episodes recorded now so that pretty much guarantees peaceful lunchtimes until he starts school!
I jokingly say to my daughter that if I were to go on Mastermind, the BBC high brow quiz show, my specialist subject would be Chuggington ~ I know so much about it I have started creating new storylines as I watch. I also make pictures for Stanley by cutting out the card trains which come with each new toy and building a scene around them with the train names written on. I then laminate them. Stanley loves these and it is how we both learned all the names.
But today, even Chuggington came second to the TURTLE sandpit. I sited it on the patio near a gazebo so that Stanley would have some shade and Grandma would have somewhere to sit. Having forgotten to buy buckets and spades etc., I gathered old plastic containers, a colander and a jug, spatulas and wooden spoons, which worked almost as well. And then the fun started.
When Stanley had enough of that exercise he thoroughly inspected the garden. Being his first Spring at an age where he could make sense of his surroundings it was a joy just to follow him watching and listening. But the highlight for me was sharing the discovery that two of the birdhouses my daughter made for me are occupied by nesting blue tits. Stanley adores watching birds in the trees and bushes, in the sky or on the ground, at the water table or on the feeders. So to show him where they are nesting was a joy.
After that he toddled up to my shed. Now anyone who has read my post “Windows” will know that my sheds are very special places for relaxation and meditation and usually no-one else ventures in there. However, today Stanley looked at the shed, pushed at the locked door and said, “Open, Yea?” in a voice that would totally melt the polar ice cap. Of course I said yes and in no time at all the nicknacks in my sanctuary were all rearranged. There was a moment when I looked at him, ancient toy car in one hand and orange wooden rosary prayer beads in the other and the happiness I felt took my breath away. And I realised that at that moment Stanley and I were both in that place where ‘heaven happens’.

Gone Fishing

It’s that time of year again when the weather is just about good enough for Gerry to go fishing ~ joy!

Heavenhappens

Under a fishing umbrella by the side of a lake in the pouring rain with husband and grandchildren, heaven happens.  There is nothing quite so exciting as being at the mercy of the elements but safe!  It appeals to our most basic human need for shelter and protection.  All our needs are met.  We are together, warm and dry and we have a picnic.  We are relaxed and at peace.  There is nothing we mustdo but enjoy ourselves.  It is a precious gift ~ time to be.  Grandchildren learn how to fish.  They watch the fluorescent tip of the float marking the place where the line enters the water.  The bait of sweetcorn gently drifts in the depths as we throw more corn in to attract the fish.  And it does.   The float waggles then dips down ~ a bite!    Ben gets the landing net ready and Rosie slides the…

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Youngling

Invading my space
Busy Blue tit emerges
Eco warrior!

Blue Tit

Blue Tit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was amused to watch a blue tit flying in and out of a small hole in my brickwork. I thought he might be nest building, but actually he was helping himself to my cavity wall insulation then flying into a nearby bush to line his nest! Whatever next? Central heating? Solar panels?
blue tit 2

blue tit

Blessed by the birds

I am sitting by the open french window reading my favourite blogs when a tiny little wren pops in through the door.  This is amazing as yesterday another little bird flew in throught the same door.  I was sitting reading and saw a bright yellow streak flash by my newspaper.  It was a young female goldfinch.  It settled down beside my chair totally oblivious to my little dog, Dayna, sitting beside me.  I was so worried that Dayna might hurt the bird that I put don my hand to chase it out.  The little goldfinch grasped my fingers and let me carry it out into the garden.  It showed no signs of being willing to fly off so I tried putting it on the bird table with some food ~ but there it sat staring at me.  Popping back onto my fingers I moved it to the bird bath thinking some cold water might jolt it into flying away.  But no, it seemed quite happy to sit there and watch me.  At last I got my camera to take photographs of it as it posed.  It was a big burly pigeon who eventually frightened it off.  I was thrilled to see it soar into a nearby tree.

Was it newly fledged and unaware of danger?  Was it disorientated by flying indoors?  I don’t know but I will always be thrilled that for a few minutes I was able to get so close to such a beautiful creature.

goldfinch on my hand 2

goldfinch on my hand

Goldfinch on the bird table

goldfinch on the bird bath