Monday, 25 February 2013

Horses' doovers

As a blogger who has occasionally cantered into the more confrontational topics of this world, I must admit that my nostrils flared when the recent food scandal involving horsemeat first reared its head.

I'll save you from the remainder of the punfest because then I read a proper blog and realised that, if you don't mind a rant by proxy, very few people could put it any better or more eloquently than this.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

What the flock?

There were four Robins in the garden at Tense Towers this morning. That's enough for a flock! The normal amount is one, and if we see two outside of the breeding season, it's a rare occurrence. So four was a bit extraordinary.

The first two that we noticed were sharing the Winter-flowering Honeysuckle bush. This is a good vantage point from which to flit to the seed feeder and back again and also allows for some ground foraging beneath its unruly stems. They seemed to tolerate each other to the point of indifference or else were very happy in one another's company. On various occasions they were peacefully within 1 foot of each other, something usually unimaginable for such a tiny thermonuclear thrush, unless battle to the death had already commenced.

The third Robin was several metres away, hogging the fat block cage in a Hawthorn tree and, bizarrely, defending this from Robin number four, whilst simultaneously ignoring Robins One and Two.

So what are the possible reasons for this strange behaviour?

1. The temperature has been hovering around freezing for a few days, there's a chill north wind blowing and we've had a dusting of snow. Coupled with a lack of food and the need to take on board sufficient calories to make it through the night, these are highly likely to be the main drivers behind such pacifist behaviour from our feisty feathered friends. Normal differences are left to one side and each bird concentrates on carbo-loading.

2. It may well be cold but we're nearing the end of February and it's just possible that Robins One and Two are a male and female, settling upon a joint territory for the breeding season. Obviously, Robins Three and Four wouldn't be welcome, but they were studiously ignored. However, as it's doubtful that general Robinhood has boundaries that are similar to our human fences and walls, it's difficult to be certain where the territory edges are, but there has often seemed to be an unofficial border running diagonally across the garden between the seed feeder and the fat block cage. Which just leaves R3 and R4 behaving to type and being predictably arsey about sharing any space with another Robin-shaped entity.

3. Or possibly there has been a local, or regional, movement of Robins due to the weather or food supply, and by tomorrow we'll be back to just one little bundle of hormonal fury.

All this made me wonder, "What is the collective noun for a flock of Robins?" As with most things, someone else on the internet had already mused over this problem. The BTO pondered upon this very issue two years ago, during its GardenBirdWatch survey. Here is a list of the top ten possible collective Robin nouns, selected from the hundreds of suggestions.

Mind you, I would have ignored all of those and gone with either 'a truce' or 'an unease'.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Fungi and misty eyes

By the Thursday of our week in Wales, grey skies had finally given way to blue.

And not only meteorologically... as it was also St Valentine's Day.

Our Lass played an ace of a card, a wonderful mixture of wildlife and punning.
What's not to love?

We ventured north from the Gower Peninsula to Llandeilo in the Tywi valley. On the outskirts of the town lies Dinefwr Park, a National Trust property consisting of Newton House, a ruined castle, parkland and a Wildlife Trust woodland reserve.

In the damp woodlands, there was a plethora of mosses, lichens and fungi. All mysteriously unknown to us except for this Scarlet Elf Cup.

Walking through some of the parkland, I had a moment of perfect syzygy with history and some White Park cattle.

camera - cow - castle
We clambered up to the castle and stood on the battlements looking out over the valley of the River Tywi.

Did I mention it had been raining?
The next day we reluctantly left the lovely cottage where we had been staying (Many Thanks to Phillipa and David) and headed over towards the border with England. We stopped off for lunch at Dyffryn Gardens, another NT property, and spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around the many garden 'rooms'. Whilst there were few plants in flower at this time of year, the layout of the garden was interesting, with something new to see around every corner. I was particularly taken by these reflected ripples...

though I couldn't decide whether it was a deliberate effect or a fortuitous accident.

For the next two nights we were staying at a B+B near Chepstow. On opening the curtains on the first morning, we discovered a covering of frost and thick fog. As the sun rose, these melted away leaving an ethereal scene in the valley below.

After a leisurely stroll around the area, we drove across to Newport Wetlands, an RSPB reserve on the edge of the Severn estuary, which we had visited for the first time last October. Here, too, the mist and fog rolled in and out all afternoon, lending much to the magical atmosphere and creating different vistas through the channels and reedbeds. Even the neighbouring power station wasn't immune to the landscape drama.

Positive and negative voltages
That evening we dined at the Piercefield Inn, a pub/restaurant just across the road from Chepstow race course. Coincidentally, there was a large chalkboard detailing the provenance of all their local produce - definitely no horse burgers!

The trip home at the end of the holiday was punctuated with a visit to Slimbridge, the WWT reserve on the banks of the River Severn. For a predominantly wet week in February, this pushed our final bird species total up to 89, though of course the primary reason for the visit was a roast lunch.

Actually, no, at that point the total was 88. It wasn't until we were firmly back in England, and most of the way home, before we saw our one and only Red Kite of the holiday.

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Spring Chasers

Having decided to visit the Gower Peninsula in mid February, the Tense Towers team opted to travel light and not take too many ID books on the trip. 'Odonata of Britain and Ireland'? Unnecessary! 'Insects of Great Britain'? Nah. 'Wild flowers of the British Isles'? Don't be daft! 'Birds of Britain and Europe'? Oh, go on then, just the one. In a week when most of the UK was still dealing with sub zero temperatures and snow, this didn't seem like a bad call.

Whilst South Wales was a little warmer than MK, it was most definitely much wetter. After five days, it finally stopped raining and we felt a little like Noah must have done when the dove returned with a bit of greenery. Mind you, the weather hadn't curtailed our excursions, it's just that there was a soggy trend. Wet sand on the beach. Wet bracken/gorse on the heaths. Wet grass in the fields. Wet mud/grass/trees in the woods. In fact, the sea might have been drier.

However, there's beauty in all landscapes, even if it is just grey skies, grey seas, grey mud and grey rocks.

Fifty shades?
Now, in all the time that we've been visiting the Gower, we had never so much as set foot in the Worm's Head Hotel to soak up the stunning view of Rhossili Bay from the bar and dining room. This year we decided to right that wrong and booked ourselves in for a Sunday lunch at a window table.

Oh yes, bring it on.

Oh no.
With a lessening in the precipitation, we spent another morning walking from Caswell Bay to Pwlldu Bay, along a coast that has seen its fair share of smuggling in times past. Whilst Caswell is sandy and beloved of holiday makers and newbie surfers...

Pwlldu is a much more secluded and inaccessible bay, perfect for trying to outfox the Revenue.

However, en route between the two, on a muddy coastal path between gorse bushes and the short but steep drop to the rocky shore below, we did find the odd spot of colour.

And when I say "odd", I do mean O.D.D.

This is Tremella mesenterica, Yellow Brain Fungus, growing on gorse stems. In the second photo, there are also several small invertebrates which appeared to be feeding on it.

In a few sheltered spots, there was also evidence of the vanguard of Spring flowers, in the form of Primrose, Milkwort, Dog Violet and Barren Strawberry.

The only other real colours of note were provided by the geology, where veins of minerals had forced their way between the vertical bedding planes.

Obliging partner shown for scale

My knowledge of rock is sadly limited to the more wacky  prog bands... sorry.
The weather during the first half of our stay on the Gower was neatly summed up by the sign displayed outside the National Trust shop at Rhossili...

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Open brackets, S-i-g-h, close brackets

Sometimes Life can be downright miserable.

For a number of reasons, Tense Towers isn't a whole bundle of joy at the mo, but we will eventually come out of the other side of this dark cloud and find ourselves older and wiser.

Ok, just older then.

However, in recent days, on two separate occasions, I have felt very privileged to share in the roller coaster ride of others' lives. Or perhaps it was just my emotions that were sent on the roller coaster ride? See what you think.

One of Our Lass' Facebook friends put up a link to this Youtube film about a baby being bathed. It is a wondrous and tranquil experience, and if that is your only reaction then I take my hat off to you. Because watching it as a parent, it also scared the sh*t out of me, so that my adrenalin levels were probably the polar opposite of the wee bairn's. Roller coaster, indeed. 

The other example was whilst reading Inspector Gadget's Police Inspector Blog. This particular post is a story which cries out for a "to be continued..." follow up, but either way, it brought a smile to my face and made me glad to be able to share the planet with such decent folk.