Other Eyes.

 

There is so much bad news , so much that scrapes the skin  from your flesh and leaves just flinching, flayed nerves alive to every sadness. And so we turn our eyes away, watch a moth bulging at our self indulgence with blissful alien incomprehension, listen to the hoot of an owl, calling between the roar of the jets, read haikus, allow a late flower to suprise us and to delight us and we hold on as the world turns and turns and we hold on, hold on.

 

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Away.

It is still summer and glittering.  Jewels hunt amongst the rose petals and the perfume of heat is strong.

But the night is cooler and the dawn later. The bats are coming into roost over the apple trees when I have to leave for work, their tantalising trails of clicks and whirls are caught by the bat box and then forgotten in the blur of noise and traffic and faces and faces and faces that fill the working day.

And take me away.

 

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Living in the Modern world.

This swallow was nesting above the cutlery shelf in a busy English beer garden. Drinkers clattered by collecting knives and forks, ketchup and vinegar and bar staff plonked down ploughmans’ lunches, Sunday roasts and Branston pickle sandwiches on their way to tables ringed by hungry drinkers.  The swallow ignored them all  and safe between the electrical wires and heating ducts brought butterflies and bugs back to its brood of hatchlings .

I have put up artificial, purpose made nests for swallows and house martins all round my house, just above my garden which is heaving with insect banquets and the birds have spurned them all. I have laughed at the improbability of my neighbour ever populating his huge new house martin monster hotel as he insists on constantly shaving the grass beneath with noisiest  lawn mower known to creation. However, it seems I have been totally wrong about what these birds want, as this picture proves. To attract swallows to nest in harmony give them chatter, clatter, the smell of cooking and the fumes of plenty of good bitter beer!

Low thunder.

Summer rain, washing away the dust: cleaning and cooling the clouds and leaving grey sheets of warm perfumed air in its wake.

Butterflies shelter in the vine dry against the house wall.

The lavender is curved down by the wet weight of its own heavy loveliness .

Pale hollyhocks cup bees circling the stiff stigmas untroubled by the slanting rain.

The cat leaves off hunting sparrows sheltering on the bird table, in order to cringe from the low thunder.

Now it is glittering sunshine, now black towering clouds, now the suffocating perfume of budliea breathing through the saturated air.

Will there ever be a day like this again?

Grand Hamster of the Alsace.

4B10C8D7-6E65-453E-9817-7210FFB85615The Giant Hamster of the Alsace is a remarkable creature. It is one of the most endangered animals in France and one of the least loved. It is almost 10 inches long, covered in golden fur with a bizarre black and white spotted tummy, big eyes and delicate paws. The French care so little about this wonderful teddy bear, that the European Council had to fine them millions of euros before the government did anything at all to help the last 180 animals in the country.

A small band of concerned naturalists brought the giant hamsters’ plight to the authorities and may just have saved it in the nick of time, but it is still critically endangered in France .  I guess there is something inherently funny about the concept of a giant hamster and I wonder if that is part of the problem.

The real problem for Giant Hamsters is maize. The low land parts of the Alsace are absolutely covered in it. This monoculture has been a disaster for so much flora and fauna in Europe. The plant takes for ever to germinate and the bare soil is washed away every year in spring rains.  The farmers plant right to the field boundary leaving no millimetre for wild flowers and animals. Anything that might get a toe hold in an uneven corner is sprayed dead with weedkiller and/or mowed flat.

Hamsters need grain and alfalfa, cabbages: in short a mixture of agriculture and wild food. Food is pulled down into underground burrows and used to feed themselves during their six months of hibernation safe below. They can’t eat maize and they can’t travel distances between suitable areas of food, especially when housing , motorways and hyper markets have covered covered the lowlands too.

These sturdy, intelligent burly creatures reproduce only once a year, have small broods and do not respond well to captivity; so getting their numbers up has been as difficult as breeding giant pandas! The population is still critically low at only 200 and they need to creep up to a massive 1500 to have  sustainable numbers.

I saw my first Hamsters at the NaturOparC (sic) in Hunawihr where they are doing their absolute best to pull this unloved cutey back from the brink of extinction in France.

It seems curious that first world country like France can allow such an iconic and adorable creature to be lost . They are already extinct in neighbouring Switzerland, and so I wish the last few all the luck they can cram in to their round furry cheeks.

 

 

 

This cracked tile shows one standing up on its hind legs displaying the distinctive spottey tummy.

photo by M. Watson via Animals Animals.

 

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Star Burst!

I saw this wonderful graffiti this week near a hydroelectric dam on the Rhine river.

I was thinking of it as I watched the sky light up over Basel in celebration of Swiss national day this evening.

There are places to watch stars and places to watch fireworks  – both are beautiful and both are transitory.

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Africa shows the way.

The world seems swamped with depressing news these days and then you see this. We have to have hope for our  beautiful planet, what ever the news.

Ethiopia has closed government offices to ensure everybody plants trees. Let’s follow Africa and hope each seedling grows! 🌱🌳🌳🌱

https://pmo.gov.et/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/29/ethiopia-plants-250m-trees-in-a-day-to-help-tackle-climate-crisis?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

 

 

“When the night air cools on the trout ringed pools…”

Watching fat flanked trout flick in a clear stream as evening fell, reminded me of the lines from the Kipling  poem The way through the woods:

“when the night air cools on the trout ringed pool,

where the otter whistles his mate,

(they fear not men in the woods because they see so few..)”

I love the repeated oo  sound, which makes the line so wonderfully peaceful and elongated like a sigh of satisfaction.

As with all poems worth loving, you should read this aloud to yourself, just to feel the words roll in your mouth. Enjoy!

 

The Road through the Woods.

THEY shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

Ruyard Kipling.

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Every step you take.

Walking by the edge of an old duck pond , the shadowed earth between the grass shivered. A tiny vibration of stalks and a sense that the ground was spotted with raindrops falling upwards: the frogs had emerged.

Great lumbering things that we are, we minced and high footed our way, conscious at once of our potential to massacre with each clumsy foot fall.

This single froglet rested momentarily in an outstretched hand. Its pin prick heart beating blood around around this minuscule body; nerves registering our heat, eyes wide to the boundless ocean of our enormous flesh.

Two animals together for a single heartbeat next to an old duck pond in the July shade.

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The first time.

Today was the sound of kestrels learning to fly, keening, crying , mewing, mewling, over and over as they flopped and fell and soared and swooped for the very first time out of crowed malodorous nests in dark church towers out, out into the wide blue sky flying with clouds and martins and jackdaws and the clacking of stork bills and the unrepeatable perfume of lime trees in flower for the first time, the first time, the very, very, first time in to the new world.

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Hogs need holes

I was telling my neighbour about the hedgehogs is the garden and she told me how amazed she was to see them in her garden too. There is no surprize in this as a hedgehog roams about two kilometres a day. The problem is that so many gardens are so securely fenced off from each other that hedgehog cannot move from one to another. Small gaps between fences panels or holes under lines of wire fences are all that is needed for a prickly hog to squeeze safely through and to find enough to eat each night.

Humans are obsessed with tidiness. We like straight lines and we fill the gaps in with unyielding concrete in the name of tidiness. We strim down the rough patches and we mow the grass within an  inch of its life. Tidy gardens have very little wildlife and are such a waste of wonderful spaces!

Putting hedgehog path ways through new and old fences is a wonderful way of cooperating with your community, getting to know the neighbours and helping one of the most irresistible mammals I know.

This link to the wildlife trusts of the UK shows you how to do it.

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-create-hedgehog-hole

A Prickly customer.

We spotted a large hedgehog out in the afternoon sun in our garden yesterday. She seemed in good health and unafraid. Something seemed to be sticking out of her mouth, but it was very hard to get a good look when she hid by a wall.

My husband thought it was a little bird foot, but this seemed ridiculous. We left her in peace and she trundled off into the bushes. On the lawn was a half eaten young sparrow, which one of our cats had caught from the bird table and then eaten the breast in typical faddy cat fashion. The bird was also missing its feet.

A check of the guidebook confirms that cute hedgehogs will eat carrion and like nestlings that fall out of the nest.

We make bread; the crusts go every day to the sparrow; the sparrows make a lot of babies; the cats catch some young sparrows; the hedgehog eats the left overs and makes more hedgehogs.  Nature is never wasteful and never soppy!

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New w/balls please!

The future for the environment can look bleak, but every day there are signs that people are waking up and maybe things can get better. Sport does little for me personally, but this article on the living green walls at the home of tennis, made me really smile. Every dull concrete wall in every polluted, depressing city in the world will look like this one day .  Bring on a green living future!!

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/tennis-players-find-tranquility-in-wimbledons-living-walls?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

How to moth trap.

This post is for those who would like to trap moths and discover what is flying at night when they are safe in bed. If moths give you the heebie-jeebies then skip this post!

I am sure there are other ways of doing it, with other equipment, but I am just sharing my own experience for those who are curious.

I have been trapping for about 12 years on a regular basis.  I had been out with other naturalists many years ago in Wales, but it wasn’t until my husband bought me a trap for a present that I started in earnest.

 

First thing you need is a moth trap.   

https://www.watdon.co.uk/   Watkins and Doncaster provided Charles Darwin with his equipment.  They send across the world and they know what they are doing.  I recommend their basic plastic bucket trap to start with and two bulbs (in case you smash one!).

All a trap is, is a UV light bulb which attracts the moths, above a plastic funnel.  The moths then fall down into the bucket below, where they perch on cardboard egg boxes in safety for the night.

The next morning you switch off the light, open the trap gently and carefully remove each egg box one by one. You then photograph the moths (in case they fly off!) and then try to identify them using a good guide book.

I use British Moths by Chris Manley published by Bloomsbury.  I have not found a similar single volume guide for France.  I am certain there are excellent guides for where you live.  There are also some excellent free on line identification sites.  I use https://ukmoths.org.uk/systematic-list/ and also http://montgomeryshiremoths.org.uk/ which is very good for showing what is around at the right time of year.

You make a note of the weather and date and keep a list of what you find in English and or Latin.  I tick off all the species that I have confidently identified in my guide book, so that I can find them again more easily.  I later send my list and photos to my local naturalist organisation, https://faune-alsace.org  so that my records can be compared with others, but you can skip this bit!

That is the bare bones and I am aware that it sounds unutterably dull and nerdy.  The reason for doing it is because you get to see the most wonderful creatures with your own eyes, while drinking a cup of tea on the back step of your own home and that takes some beating as a wildlife experience.  I have been lucky enough to live in Zambia and to spend months on safari, I have lived in Costa Rica for four years and in Brazil for two and spent as much time as possible in the forests, rivers and oceans, seeing wildlife that most people only see on David Attenborough tv programmes and yet I have never enjoyed wildlife in such comfort, or been so amazed on a daily basis as I have been when moth trapping in my own back garden!

 

Tips.

  1.  It takes a long time to learn the common moths that you will encounter on your patch.  It has taken me 10 years to be confident with the common moths and even then I make mistakes.  There are a lots of moths and many of them look the same!!!

2. Start by identifying the ones with clear colours or markings.  Leave the dull ones until much later.  There is no shame in being confused.  If the guide book says the moth that you have spent hours identifying is very rare in your area, then you probably have made a mistake.

3. Keep your moths cool.  If it is warm and the trap has been left in the sun before you open it, then they will all fly away before you identify them.  Move your trap into the coolest shade you can and let them settle before taking out the boxes.  If you do this, you do not need to put them in collecting jars to look at.  They will sit happily on the egg box while you admire them.

4. Take a photo on your phone or camera, so you can look back at them and identify them when you have time.  This final phase often requires a glass of chilled wine and a sofa!

5. Let the moths fly off when they want to, or shake onto a bush.  My cats used to try to eat them, but now treat them with feline disdain.

 

Enjoy!!

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1. UV light and plastic funnel.

2. Box containing old egg boxes and electrical connection.

3. Lead to mains or to a big battery if you want to set up the trap in a remote place.

4. Identification guide.

 

Gifts of the night.

It has been painfully hot here. My garden has had to fend for itself, as going out in the sunshine has been impossible.  Luckily we are on holiday and can sleep the heat of the day away and get up before dawn, open up the house and let in a breath of cool air.

My moth trap has been on almost every night and a wonderful range of visitors has appeared to be sorted over in the pearly morning light before the sun races up over the hedge.

I have been trapping for more than 10 years now and I never cease to be amazed by the diversity and beauty of the moths that I find and how they vary with the seasons.   I have identified more than 160 species of moths just in my back garden over the years and 67 species this year so far. Every time I open the trap there is a possibility  that I will find a moth that is a  totally new record for me and that is a real thrill. I send all my records into my local wildlife society on line and it surprising how under recorded French papillon du nuit (butterflies of the night) are.

The photo at the top is a lovely large emerald that fluttered out of the  trap onto the lawn.

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And this beast is a privet hawk moth.

As they say in the film credits “no animal was hurt in the making of this blog” and all these gifts of the night fly away after identification.

Who knows who will arrive tonight?

Smelling of Roses.

How inadequate language is!

Scent, smell, perfume ignites memory like nothing else, they are far more powerful than sounds or even vision; we might think in pictures, but we feel and remember in smells.  And when we try to evoke this experience in language , how we fail!

How to describe the sickly smell of sweet chestnut in flower; the wedding yearning of mock orange blossom; the catch in the throat of lilac after rain and the elusive, unexpected sherbet of iris flowers without the use of simile and history?

Privet flowers are the smell of long summer afternoon in quiet suburbs, elderflowers are the back seat of Dad’s car as we drove down long hedge rows to collect saucers of white flowers that would be turned into explosive summer wine. This petunia has a bubblegum smell that reminds me of the Brazilian friend who gave me a pot plant to thank me for cooking dinner. The little plant perfumed the garden table for the whole summer many years ago.

I can share a picture of a scented petunia with you, but not the perfume. Your mind will have to imagine  what my words stumble to evoke, or maybe you can just step outside to smell the real roses and they will create their own story and memory of time and place for you.

Looks what happens when you don’t mow!

 

Short grass is an obsession with so many people. Close mown grass of uniform dullness is the holy grail for some; every “weed” poisoned and not an insect in sight makes some people happy. I, on the other hand, try my best to show how wonderful a long lawn can be and how much wildlife it can support. The dull lawners are rarely impressed until you mention the magic word : Orchid!

At work, a beautiful pyramid orchid managed to appear in the brief window between ritual grass cuttings. I happened to spot it and the mower had to spare a tiny patch of grass so the children could come out and photograph it on their phones. You can see them reflected in the glass window capturing something to share on line for a moment. It wasn’t like the tropical orchids on sale in the supermarket, it was small and vulnerable and they were almost impressed .

The butterfly orchid was in the meadow and the parasitic broomrape was on the edge of the maize field, so I thought I would share them with you like the kids do on social media, in the hope that a love for the wild things that grow when you dont mow, will stir in us all!

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Alice Oswald

It was with real delight I read that Alice Oswald has been made the professor of poetry at Oxford University. I thought I was the only person to have fallen in love with her bell clear, thumb nail sharp slice into the green heart; but it turns out I was wonderfully wrong and she is recognised at the highest levels.

This you tube clip shows her reading from “Falling Awake” . Skip the first minute of pomposity and listen to her from 1.55. The heart needs Alice Oswald.

 

 

Gifts of the rain.

Heavy rain brings quiet mornings.

Snakes of pine needles on the path show where water flowed in the night.

Poppies are slow to open in the cool hours and there is time to watch them shrugging     off their sepals to  expose their dark hearts to the hungry bees.

Droplets cling to the folds of lady’s mantle leaves – the name from the shape of the folds in the Virgin Mary’s cloak.

And the birds: such a rich waterfall of music from the birds, as they take the cloudy day for dawn and sing each fresh washed note over and over again.

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