Sunday 27 February 2011

My name is Pond...

The pond at Tense Towers is about eight years old now and well overdue for a bit of proper maintenance. As it's a wildlife pond, it's one of those tasks that is ever so easy to put off until another day. After all, the natural progression from tidy water body to overgrown bog is what wildlife is all about.

However, the lack of open water has reduced the number of visiting dragonflies and the build up of silt and decaying debris does require some attention.

But prevarication and displacement activity are happy bedfellows...

"Ooo, wrong time of year."

"Do you want to get all muddy and trash the lawn or go for a nice walk? Yeah, me too."

"Damn, it's way too hot, the wildlife will suffer from heat stress."

"Oh look! A pair of damselflies egg laying! Best leave them alone."

"Damn, it's chucking it down out there!"

The Common Darters that emerged in the summer of 2010 were the first "home grown" ones we had recorded for the garden, but they were small and weedy. I took this as a signal that all was not well below the surface and realised that the time for excuses was over. At the first sensible opportunity, the pond would have to be cleaned.

Fast forward to late winter 2011. A slight rise in day time temperatures results in the local blackbirds and crows starting to gather nesting material. During an evening walk, we spot a Toad on the move. Nature is waking up from her slumbers and there's not a moment to lose.

A quick trawl of the internet informs me that I should lower the water level, removing plants and wildlife as I go. Then, after removing all the mud and silt from the bottom of the pond, clean the liner and any hard features (cobbles and pebbles, in our case). Finally, seed the pond with a small amount of silt to start the natural process again, then re-introduce plants and wildlife and top up with rain water.

What could be simpler?

"Slight rise in day time temperatures", my arse! The water was bloody cold. Coupled to that, the aroma from the rotting vegetation was a subtle blend of silage and sewage. Lovely!

However, I surprised myself, not to mention Our Lass, by completing the operation in a day. Well, I say "completed", as long as it rains soon, to top up the water level.

I can probably wait another eight years before doing that again!

The task begins. Plants removed.
Silt and debris removed. Clean again.
Damselfly larvae
Water beetle, possibly Colymbetes fuscus
Common (or Smooth) Newt
Restocking with plants, wildlife, cobbles and water

Wednesday 23 February 2011


Last night, as a diversion from natural history and Our Lass's book learnin', we decamped to The Stables theatre for a gig by the hard-to-classify folk fusion trio, Lau

We were accompanied by Dr Jelly, whose love for squidgy marine creatures is only equalled by his passion for jiggy music. Having first dined in the bijou theatre cafe, we moved through to the auditorium for some aural gymnastics.

Lau comprise of singer/guitarist Kris Drever, fiddler Aidan O'Rourke and piano accordionist Martin Green. They are as happy belting out traditional Celtic folk, that wouldn't be out of place at a ceilidh, as they are, what to my mind feels like, prog rock. 

The sonic textures built by Lau create a heady atmosphere. Both discord and harmony are treated like friends, a trait that echoes one of my favourite bands, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Continuing the progressive rock analogy, there's something of Ian Anderson, the Jethro Tull singer and flautist, in Martin's persona, helped by his excellent stage banter and full throttle accordion playing.

There's something about trios, too. I've mentioned ELP already, but Lau have an on-stage chemistry that is shared by many other genres of threesome. Aidan seems slightly nervy, Kris is calmness personified, whilst Martin is the cheeky scruff. Think of The Goodies, Last of the Summer Wine or their blunt contemporaries, the Top Gear team. Three very different characters, each bringing something different to the ensemble so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We thoroughly enjoyed Lau's music, long live the unholy trinity.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Finchly barnet

In yesterday's comments, I ended up wondering whether birds had a sense of humour. This morning I discovered that, contrary to any scientific research, they are a compassionate bunch too.

My week's poor showing with the camera prompted this chap to take pity on me and turn up in the garden of Tense Towers, whilst we were having breakfast. Our Lass spotted one of his distinguishing features straight away and called out "black cap". I, on the other hand, wasn't wearing my specs and could only see a general greenish blur. On reflection, I should've realised that she didn't think it was a Blackcap in a frog costume.

Siskin (male)

He was only our second sighting of the Winter
The top photograph gives a good indication of the difference in relative size between a Greenfinch and  a Siskin. Whereas, in the bottom photo, the feeder is shared with a Goldfinch.

It was a bitterly cold, damp day with a biting easterly wind, so we were more than happy for him to share our provender. Following his good turn, it was the least we could do.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Nothing new under the... cloud

I've not taken any wildlife photographs this week, so it'll be another wordy blog, I'm afraid.

A definite lack of effort on my part, as of late, my commute to work has had several birdy "regulars".

One part of the route passes a couple of football pitches, only separated from the road by a small banked verge and a line of trees. Stony Stratford Town FC play in the South Midlands League - Division 1 from these pitches, but during the week and during the rush hour, the away team consists of a solitary Buzzard. I see it most mornings, come rain or shine. Sometimes perched on the crossbar of the goal nearest the road, occasionally sat on the hand rail between the corner flag and the grandstand. That's the Buzzard, not me. Presumably it's watching for earthworms rather than being a talons scout.


I'd wondered what the chances were of being able to park the car and sneak up to the trees without scaring it off. Pretty slim, I reckon, so camera and photographer have remained vehicularised, the 40mph speed limit allowing time for a brief view and a mumbled greeting.

The other "regulars" are very definitely fair weather friends. About 4 miles from work, I pass a field on my right hand side, which gradually slopes up from the hedgerow at the roadside, thereby catching any early morning sun. It was ploughed and sown in the Autumn, so that now, in late Winter, there is a short green sward, ideal for highlighting any reasonably-sized creature sat on the ground. For several weeks, it has been possible to predict whether there would be a small covey of Red-legged Partridges here, by reference to the weather. Sunny, yes, cloudy, no. After many mild oaths of "Damn, it's sunny, I've forgotten the camera again!" I finally remembered this week. On the first bright morning that they didn't bother to show up. Grrrr!

Such are the joys of wildlife watching. 

I'd hoped to make up for my Monday to Friday photographic failures over the course of the weekend, but as I write, the rain has not stopped. Persistent precipitation producing pessimistic ponderings. 

The soaked ground will be no place for an earthworm, I fear. Who'd've thought that the early bird would be a Buzzard?

Monday 14 February 2011

Valentine's Day

Any excuse for an out-of-season pic of damselflies, eh?

OK, so the photo's upside down, but give a guy a break on Valentine's Day.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Tunnel of love

The past few months have been something of a rollercoaster ride at Tense Towers. I have mentioned before that Our Lass has spent over twenty years working as a midwife, with all the ups and downs associated with such a pivotal time in people's lives. Along with her colleagues, the community service runs helter skelter from clinics to homes to hospital, on the 40 week merry-go-round of pregnancy. Think of Dodgems and you've pictured the scene as the pool cars leave the office every morning. Of late, however, the happiness seems to have slipped away, so that all we're left with is the empty space where the funfair used to be.

It is a vocation that has given her so much joy and to which she has given her heart and soul, but recently it became apparent that all was not rosy in her work/life balance. The daily debriefs over our evening meal were less and less positive, the unsocial hours were becoming more of a chore and, for her, the mobile phone had turned into an instrument of torture.

After much contemplation, and I do mean much, Our Lass decided that the time had come for a change. With that decision made, a huge weight was lifted from her shoulders. Overnight, it seemed, she was years younger. Suddenly, there was laughter and a glint in the eye again. She was the woman that I discover on holiday and it was a shock to meet her at home, if that makes any sense. It was a defining moment and we knew that the correct choice had been made.

Her colleagues gave her a wonderful send off on Thursday night. Friends, old and new, gathered at a local restaurant, to eat, drink and reminisce. There were tales and speeches, much laughter and a few tears. A fitting finale, delivered at the due time, by the ladies (and one gentleman) of the community midwifery service.

So now my nearest and dearest has gone back to school, to bring herself up to date with nursing on a "return to practice" course. Truth be told, she was a trainee nurse when we first met all those years ago, so the big wheel does keep on turning.

Sunday 6 February 2011

If you go down to the woods today...

Sadly, I've not had much opportunity for wildlife encounters this week. Nature's taken a bit of a buffeting recently, and I'm not just talking about the strong winds howling across the landscape.

Government plans to sell off publicly-owned woodlands in an attempt to balance the books have come in for fierce criticism from just about all sides. In comparison to the amount of debt we're in, the savings talked about seem paltry, so it is very short-sighted of politicians to think that the electorate won't suspect ulterior motives for the scheme.

Here we are, good old Great Britain, bigging ourselves up as environmental champions. Always banging on about how important it is to save the rain forests and how other countries have to play their part in managing climate change. What a bunch of hypocrites we must look. 

Our woodlands need protecting as much as any habitat. Their biodiversity is a thing to be cherished and celebrated, not threatened with short-term penny pinching. Countless generations of folk have appreciated the natural history and sense of well being found within our woods. They are places where wildlife and humans can exist together, with minimal impact on the former and stress-busting rejuvenation on the latter. No longer do many of us depend on woodland for our livelihoods, but the memories of those times are etched deep into our very beings. We need them for the sanctuaries they are, for the nature that dwells within them and for the breathing space it gives us as humans. They are places of active recreation and of peaceful contemplation, of sights, sounds and smells that banish the troubles of our contemporary lives for a while, for here the car is not king.

Woods are where we walk with our children, where the next generation can learn the wonders of Nature and the small acorn of hope is sown. For if our children do not have the opportunity to appreciate these wild places, to learn to care for the rich green tapestry of our countryside, then where will they revitalise their spirits in times to come.

This morning, as I typed an email to my local MP, asking why he had voted against a rethink of the sell-off plans, an echoing clarion call cut through the air outside my window. In an Ash tree, sat a Mistle Thrush, his clear, loud voice carried on the wind, shouting his defiance to all who could hear. 

We must care for our woodland or we will be the poorer for it and we will have failed the land.