Since the start of February we have been visited by small flocks of 8 Canada Geese which over-winter on the ponds a few miles away. They are I think, sussing us out as a possible place for rearing this year's chicks. Eventually, one pair will take up residence and the cycle will begin again. I have always wanted to catch them landing and taking off and today I caught them taking off. What a wonderful sight. I like to think it is the same family that was with us last year - mum, dad and six chicks.
Its nearly 10 years since my close friend Mike died and although his memory is always popping into my head in February I spend a little more time thinking of him and his wife. I wanted to mark the occassion so I went for another walk in the woods and happened on the moss. Its the best time of the year to appreciate the moss as there is very little of the tangled ground cover that smothers everything in the summer. Because of all the rain we have the woods are particular wet this year and the logs that line the path are covered in moss. Moss is such a modest plant that it gets overlooked when walking amongst such big trees. But the vividness of the green draws your eye and when you stop and look and get down on your needs your realise how exquisite its dense mats are.
I know next to nothing about mosses so I googled and found a blog by Kate Lewthwaite who spent more than 6 months studying the mossesas part of her PhD. She told me that mosses produce spores. They have stems and leaves but not true roots. They are reliant on damp conditions for reproduction because the male cells need to move via a film of water to reach the female cells for fertilisation. Sometimes this is within one plant but can also require them to reach another plant, depending on the species. Mosses are important ecologically as one of the first colonisers of bare ground or fallen trees. They absorb huge quantities of water, helping to soak up rainfall and create a locally humid environment. They also act as an important home for other creatures. These are mainly invertebrates and include species like woodlice and slugs. In my garden, moss is constantly ‘on the move’ as the blackbirds tug it up looking for a tasty meal underneath. Moss is also home to a host of microscopic invertebrates such as rotifers, tardigrades and nematodes. There are around 1,000 bryophyte species (the term that includes both mosses and liverworts) in the UK. Many require microscopes to distinguish between closely-related species.
I spent a while photgraphing them in the woods and decided that it was mostly the common tamarisk moss (Thuidium tamariscinum). But I wasn't prepared to lie on the muddy ground and study them properly. The day after I took a small digital microscope with me and a plastic sheet to lie on and took someclose up photos. I dedicate this film to the memory of my friemd and his wife.
A few days ago I shared my garden notebook with a friend from school and he seemed to really appreciate it. Although I make these notes and movies for myself I love it when others share their appreciation.
It's a mild but windy day with the sky turning from bright blue with scuddling clouds to dark grey with threats of rain. My attention was drawn to the tall ash trees in the woods that were swaying in the wind so I took my camera for a walk in thw woods.
I always associate daisy's with summer and I did not realise until this moring that they are with us so earlier in the year. Perhaps they are with us through the winter and I just haven't noticed.
I was awake early this morning and a most amazing sunrise began to unfold before my eyes. I got my camera and walked out into the frozen world.
For the last few evenings I have witnessed some interesting behaviour. Around about 7pm a group of may be twenty Canada geese fly over the garden towards the sun set. After 10 or 15 mins another larger group, or perhaps the same group with more individuals fly over in the the same direction and this carries on for half an hour or so with the group growing to perhaps 60 or 70. Then as it starts to get dark 8.20-8.30 some of this large group fly back sometimes in smaller groups 8-12 perhaps but also in one huge flock of several hundred. They must congregating somewhere not too far away and then going home to roost.
There is something magical about making a fire and I love making fires when other people are involved so that it becomes a social thing. In February I cut the dogwood around the pond and dragged the cuttings to make huge piles in the wood. This had become overgrown with nettles and brambles and it was quite unsightly so we made a fire to burn quite a lot of it. It was a warm sunny day and when we had nearly finished I put some damper wood onto the embers and it generated a lot of smoke. I was mesmerised by the way the smoke caught the sunbeams as the sun went down.
There is nothing quite like seeing a family of animals at play. This year I have wtinessed rabbits, geese and deer all enjoying (I'm sure they do feel this emotion) interacting with each other in a playful way. Two days ago I caught this family of deer enjoying their freedom, the space and the fence.
There is nothing quite like seeing a family of animals playing. This year I have wtinessed rabbits, geese and deer all enjoying (I'm sure they do feel this emotion) interacting with each other in a playful way. Two days ago I caught this family of deer enjoying their freedom, the space and the fence.
In one of those interesting coincidences, the day I made this movie of the deer playing in the garden, I watched a BBC2 programme called ‘Animals at Play’ which demonstrated that many different species engage in play defined as: voluntary and repetitive behaviour, when the reward is the activity itself rather than trying to achieve a goal like feeding or breeding. When undertaken when the animal is young it is often a prelude to serious (adult) behaviour - like fighting or fleeing. Play is undertaken when the animal is healthy, and when they feel safe and relaxed (unstressed).
The programme makers claimed that play prepares animals for the unexpected, it enables animals to develop the neural pathways that enable them to react quickly when it is necessary for their survival. Play is also an important social process enabling families to sustain their relationships and perhaps, like when we play, it releases hormones like dopamine that make them feel good.
July 8 – arriving home from a two week holiday I noticed the Canada Geese were still here but as I approached them they all flew a few feet into the air. I remembered last year that the morning after I had seen them fly for the first time, they were gone. I wondered whether I should walk back to the house and get my camera but couldn’t be bothered and sure enough the following morning they were not to be seen. I was disappointed – they had been a part of our everyday life for the last 4 months. I was left wondering whether they waited for us to come home before flying away?
After 2 weeks the grass had grown but the main thing that struck me was the ragwort in the paddock. It had more or less taken over the eastern end which was a mass of yellow. The daisy-like, yellow flower heads of Common Ragwort belie the poisonous nature of this plant. Renowned as a weed of paddocks and pastures, where it can be harmful to livestock particularly horses. Ragwort is a biennial, flowering in its second year from June to November. I wondered whether its flourishing this year was because I had mown the paddock earlier this year and it had more space to grow. The upside is that the plant is one of the most frequently visited flowers by butterflies and other insects in the UK and more than 200 species of invertebrate have been recorded on it. Ragwort is the foodplant of the black-and-red Cinnabar moth: sometimes its black-and yellow-barred caterpillars cover the plant, totally stripping the leaves.