Ramblings

May 2020


Friday – Leominster – Rain fell heavily overnight and along with the showers in the past couple of days the water butts are full again. The wet weather has temporarily moved on although the sky is still full of cloud. Down the street. The dawn chorus is limited just a couple of Robins and the chattering of House Sparrows. SycamoreOver the railway to Butts Bridge. The heavy rain seems to have had little effect on the water level of the River Lugg. It is clear now that the flooding of a few months ago has changed the profiles of the shingle banks considerably. Several Chiffchaffs are still calling persistently and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drums nearby.

Back over the railway and around to Millennium Park. A Blackbird on the roof of the new apartments at Pinsley Mill is singing but somewhat hesitantly, not the full blooded song one normally expects. Into the churchyard. Yellow-green bunches of flowers dangle from a Sycamore. Everywhere is wet. I collect some more Wild Garlic for the hens.

Home – Building works next door have left our back windows filthy, so I try to wash them. The upper floor is a real pain, wielding an extended mop from the step ladders with a mop head that is wider than the window panes. Anyway, the look better than they did before I started…

Some sweet peppers are pricked out into pots and into the greenhouse. Then everything in the greenhouse gets a watering. Small pieces of chicken wire are bunged into the gaps in the chicken run where the Blackbirds are getting in; hopefully all entrances are now blocked. There is a brisk wind this afternoon and the sun appears and disappears regularly. More potato shoots have emerged.

Saturday – Leominster – The sky overhead and to the east is cloudless. However, a thick bank of dark cloud lies on the western horizon. Above Eaton Hill the rising sun blazes. Wood Pigeons fly off with an explosive clap of wings. It would seem that possibly the main dawn chorus is already over. A Wren in sings loudly behind the White Lion pub, a Blackbird again sings on the apex of Pinsley Mill apartments although his song this morning is much more sustained. A Horsetail has pushed its way through the asphalt at the Mill development. A Chiffchaff sings on the far side of of the railway. A Greenfinch wheezes somewhere in the gardens of the houses in Pinsley Road, where lilacs are in full blossom.

Through the Millennium Park to the Grange. A Carrion Crow caws continuously from the top of one of the Wellingtonias outside the cricket pavilion. A small spider hangs on a thread several feet above my head and at least eight feet down from the branch to which it must be attached.

Home – A cock Blackbird is hopping across the lawn picking at the ground the lawn picking at so every now and again attempt to find worms. One of the youngsters spends a lot of time in the tray underneath the bird feeder picking out the seeds that the House Sparrows knock out. The blossom season is coming to an end in the garden. The crab apple blossom has already gone, as it has from the Perry, Doyenné du Comice and Conference pears. Apple blossom is fading fast. The first roses are beginning to appear. Aquilegias, also known as Columbine or Grannies Bonnets, are coming into flower. Geraniums are beginning to emerge but the Bluebells are coming to an end. Long arching stalks of Solomon Seal have rows of green white bells hanging on them. I undertake a small amount of weeding, the job can be endless at the moment.

Sunday – Leominster – The morning is grey with fine misty rain. Wood Pigeons are noisy down the street, one sounds like it is trying to burst its lungs! More continue calling as I pass through Pinsley Mill. Chiffchaffs, Wrens and Blackcaps sing around the foot of the churchyard. I gather more Ransoms, Wild Garlic, for the hens. Rabbits bound away across the graveyard. Rain falls with white noise on the fresh canopies of leaves. Seven times the Minster bell peals calling the hour. The Grange is dotted with dandelion clocks.

Home – When the compost bins were sorted a couple of weeks ago, some compost was dumped into a dustbin. It was pretty rough stuff. However, it does not seem to be improving where it is, so I tip it out onto what will be a courgette bed. This morning I need some, indeed quite a lot, of compost to pot on some tomatoes. Before I try to sieve out this pile I check one of the large bins. The compost in there is excellent! It needs only a little sieving to provide enough for my pots. Some is also put into cardboard tubes, old kitchen and toilet roll tubes, and beetroot seeds sown. Some of the beetroot that were sown directly into the soil have germinated but it is patchy. Spring onions, spinach and second sowings of peas and broad beans have all emerged. More rhubarb is pulled and stewed.

Monday – Leominster – The lockdown drags on. Although much looks the same on my now daily walk a few moments looking around makes me realise that spring is advancing quite rapidly. A Song Thrush is singing on the far side of the railway, I have not heard him for over a week. Rabbits scatter as I enter the churchyard. All the trees are in leaf now.

Home – I work my way around the garden removing Stinging Nettles and Brambles. A clump of nettles are being allowed to grow at the bottom of the garden near the log pile and white currant. Stinging Nettles are a food source for Small Tortoiseshell and Comma butterflies. My first Swift of the year sails through the air like a scythe. I have yet to see either a Swallow or a House Martin.

In the afternoon more Swifts are overhead and it is a joy to hear their high-pitched screams again. For some reason the local Blackbirds have got very upset about a Wood Pigeon in the Yew tree and are kicking up a fuss with their alarm calls. The wind rises and Horse Chestnut petals pour down like flurries in a snow storm.

Black Poplar

Wednesday – Leominster – There is a chill about the pre-dawn air. The Pinsley Mill Blackbird is in full song and Chiffchaffs are calling from across the railway. May blossom is at its full glory, coating the Hawthorns with petal snow. Riverside Black Poplars with their balls of Mistletoe are silhouetted against a yellowing sky to the east. The River Kenwater flows slowly. The grass just inside the churchyard is spotted white and yellow with Daisies and Buttercups. Starlings and Blackbirds feed on the Grange to the chorus of cooing Wood Pigeons.

Home – The sky is an unblemished blue; the sun hot. Small gangs of Swifts flash over in a chase. A Blackbird sings in the dense Ivy and leaves of the ancient pear tree. I think the Blackbirds and possibly Robins and/or Wrens are nesting in there but I will not disturb them. A pair of Small White butterflies dance around each other above the lawn. The grass is covered in white Horse Chestnut blossom although to look up at the tree there appears to be just the same, vast amount of candles up there.

Thursday – Leominster – The morning sky is cloudless. The Pinsley Mill resident Blackbird, Song Thrush and Chiffchaff are all in song. Pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls fly north. The top of a large old Sycamore in the south-eastern corner of the churchyard is catching the rays of the rising sun and glows yellow green. The first elderflowers have appeared.

Home – In the night the last super-moon of the year rises. By the early hours it illuminates the land. This is, apparently, the Flower Moon.

Saturday – Leominster – Another morning with a clear blue sky, this time with cloud in the east. It rained heavily yesterday evening which was very welcome. House Sparrows are chirping noisily down the street. There is a mist in the river valley. Looking north, up the railway from the footbridge the mist obscures everything after a couple of hundred yards. Below Broom blossoms chromium yellow beneath the green and white of a Hawthorn tree. Below that are patches of blue Forget-me-not. The water level in the River Lugg is low. CattleA herd of white cattle is on Lammas Meadow, there are calves among them. One of the cows bellows loudly. Blackbirds, Robins, a Chiffchaff, Wren and Blackcap are all in song.

Into the Millennium Park. Rabbits and Wood Pigeons scatter. Fresh green leaves on the trees and bushes are still wet from last night’s rain. Where the patch of Wild Garlic grew is now a bed of Stinging Nettles between five and ten feet deep. Through the graveyard to the Grange where a mist hovers a few feet above the ground.

Home – A small bed beside the chicken run is cleared in readiness for courgettes. Over the winter, Couch Grass has sent its roots all through the patch and I dig out as much as I can find. There is a pile of chicken run diggings on it which I rake in. Seedlings are doing well in the greenhouse. Courgettes, a Chicago Warty pumpkin, cucumbers, callaloo, dwarf and climbing French, runner and borlotti beans and leeks have all sprouted. My purple sprouting and Georgia Collards are in trouble, I have overwatered and it is too hot for them. They are now in the mini-greenhouse which is in a less sunny position. The tomatoes in pots are looking excellent but it is still too early to plant them out, after a cold spell threatened for tomorrow I may risk it. Another row of lettuce are planted out.

Swifts are chasing around the area regularly now but I have yet to see a single Swallow or House Martin. A Common Buzzard glides over. Yesterday Jackdaw dropped down onto bird bath for a drink but only got a single beakful before being chased off by an angry Blackbird. Sadly, one of the fledgling Blackbirds was laying dead on the path. Cloud builds during the afternoon.

Sunday – Leominster – Grey clouds mount up to be East; there is an occasional breeze. The usual birds, probably the same ones every day, are in song. There seems to be more House Sparrows chirping and chasing down the street. It seems incredible that the House Sparrow, a bird that was ubiquitous in my childhood, should now be on the “Red List” of endangered species. Various reasons are given although I feel that our houses now are so much better maintained that there are no gaps under the eaves for them to nest in. Round to the Millennium Park where most of the apple blossom has faded except for a Dabinett cider apple which is still covered in white and pink flowers. Swifts race overhead. A few new molehills have appeared in the graveyard.

Home – Cloud soon covers the entire sky and the air feels like rain. The wind increases and the temperature drops. The Russet hen has laid a soft egg which has broken. We are short of eggs these days with Rocket not laying at all. The greenhouse is watered. A lot of plants could be planted out but I will wait a bit longer to minimise the risk of cold, frosty nights.

Monday – Leominster – An area of high pressure over the country has brought strong cold arctic winds throughout the night. This morning sky is cloudless and the sun shines brilliantly in the east. Pale waning moon is high in the south-west. The gale has departed although there is still a cold breeze. At Pinsley Mill the resident Blackbird is on the new development and Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Song Thrush sing on the other side of the railway. There is a light grass frost on the Grange.

Home – The wind strength increases again during the day and it is still from the north and cold. However, by late afternoon the sun is shining brightly again. By early evening the sky is covered in cloud.

Tuesday – Leominster – Another cloudless dawn. The wind has dropped to a slight breeze and the air is cold. Lesser Black-backed Gulls yelp over the town. Pale half moon is in the southern sky. A light frost lays on the rooftops. Over Butts Bridge. The River Lugg gurgles over the rocks. On Easters Meadow, Stinging Nettles and Comfrey leaves are all limp with frost. Most of the herd of white cattle are lying under a blossom covered Hawthorn in the middle of Lammas meadow. Under Mosaic Bridge which carries the A49. Into BugleEasters Wood following the path along by the river. A Guelder Rose is in flower, a white dish of flowers with a surround of larger petals like stars circling. Sorting out the individual songs in the dawn chorus is not easy, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Wren, Blackcap, Robin, Blue Tit, Dunnock and a tapping woodpecker. And was that a Garden warbler? I am not sure. At the far end of the wood a drainage ditch has dried up, which is fortunate as the footbridge that once crossed it is now completely missing. Rabbits scurry across paddocks where canvas coated horses and ponies are browsing. They raise their heads briefly to mark my passing then return to the fresh sweet grass. The footpath bears left and runs parallel to the A44 through a dark tunnel formed by Blackthorn and Hawthorn branches.

Up the drovers track, spotted white with Hawthorne petals, onto Eaton Hill. Vast Burdock leaves grow by the path side along with the pink flowers of Red Campion. Out onto the top of the hill into the golden dawn sun. All the Burdock leaves up here are pale with frost. A Whitethroat is singing on the hillside. Another sings to the east in the trees and bushes lining the edge of the solar farm. The purple flowers of the Spear Thistle are beginning to open.

Down the track from Eaton Hill. To the west the sun tower of the Minster rises above multi-coloured trees. Patches of Bugle, erect blue many headed flowers, grow beside the track. A number of LaburnumJackdaws fly off, strangely silent. Towards the end of the track that leads to the A49 is a large patch of White Dead-nettle with creamy flowers. Along the main road the short distance to the bridge over Cheaton Brook. A patch of Ox-eye Daisies stare into the sky. The brook is shallow and flowing gently. Over the road is the OK Diner and petrol station. The price of petrol has dropped over 20% in the last 8 weeks.

Along Mill Street and across the car park to Paradise Walk. Up the Priory to the west end of the Minster. A Laburnum tree dangles acid yellow flowers.

Home – I move the pots of bean seedlings out of the greenhouse and into the cold frame to harden off. Some of the tray of leek seedlings are pricked out into a large pot and put in the mini-greenhouse. Kay is dead-heading some of the Bluebells that have grown in the area of lawn we are leaving, hopefully to develop into a wild flower meadow.

Wednesday – Leominster – The dawn sky is a featureless sheet of pewter grey. A Starling squeaks and whistles from the top of 73 Etnam Street, a rather odd timber-framed three storey house whose ground floor has been an empty takeaway for over ten years. A single Swift sweeps around in large circles over the street. A pair of Jackdaws watch from a window box on a second floor. The usual Wood Pigeons are calling noisily. The Pinsley Mill Blackbird is in full flow as is the Chiffchaff near the railway bridge. Further along towards Millennium Park is another Blackbird singing loudly but in the background there is, I am certain this time, a Garden Warbler. The Minster bells toll 6 o’clock. A Blackcap ticks from the Millennium orchard hedges.

I gather some Wild Garlic for the hens; this patch is now coming to an end. A short distance away beneath the great sycamore in the corner of the graveyard are two rows of graves which have not been removed. However a number of toppled over and large stone crosses lay on the ground slowly sinking into it. The hoods of Wild Arum, Cuckoo Pints, are decaying.

Home – It appears the temperature did not drop below 5°C but the forecast is for another cold night tonight. I had left the pot of leeks in the water bath overnight and something has had a good root around and destroyed many of the seedlings. Fortunately there are still more in the greenhouse. I keep chasing the Grey Squirrels off the feeders. This afternoon there is a rustling in the dense Lesser Periwinkle leaves and a very small squirrel dashes out and up the old Elder. Another generation of pests!

Thursday – Home – Just before 3 o’clock in the morning the International Space Station passes over. The current crew are Chris Cassidy, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagnar. The stars twinkle brightly. It is cold but the temperature does not drop far enough for a frost.

The day is bright and sunny. It is unclear how many Blackbird fledglings there are in the garden. A pair are hopping rapidly after their mother as she searches the flowers beds for grubs. An older one makes frequent visits to the tray under the seed feeder to chomp up the seeds the House Sparrows drop. A Wren perches on the shrub behind the summerhouse before zipping off down towards the house. My beans in the cold frame have dried out badly. The idea is to harden them off but it seems it is hotter in the cold frame than in the greenhouse! We are still only getting the one egg a day, and not every day, from Emerald. Today’s has lots of tiny brown spots, a bit like a Blackbird egg. The occasional Swift flies over but still no Swallows or House Martins. We manage to harvest enough asparagus for a side dish.

Friday – Widgeon Hill – The sun shines brightly despite grey billowing clouds in the sky. Across the Grange and down The Priory, where House Sparrows chatter in the hedges, to the footbridge over the River Kenwater. The water is shallow and clear. Into Mill Street and over the railway crossing. Garlic Mustard, Hedge Mustard, Ragwort, Cleavers, Cow Parsley and White Dead-nettle are all in flower along the verge. At the OK Diner roundabout Dog Roses, Blackberries, Herb Robert, Green Alkanet, one of the smaller flowered cranesbills – Dovefoot Cranesbill probably, a white Comfrey and Forget-me-nots are in flower. Along the A49 by the bridge to Eaton Hill House, a large Broom bush is covered in chromium yellow flowers. Nearby are Ox-eye Daisies.

Cow Parsley

Over the stile and into the small copse by Hay Lane. A cereal crop has been sown in the big field that lays beside the path. There are rather a lot of bare patches where the soil looks like baked clay. Cow Parsley forms a sea of white froth along the bank beside the path. Several Swifts scream overhead. Over the bridge across Cheaton Brook and then across the fields to the Stoke Prior Road. Much of the sky is now covered in pillows of cloud, the sun has gone. Past another field with large areas where the crop failed. Little water is flowing through Whittey Brook. Laburnum and Lilac flower at Docklow Glade.

The road climbs to Widgeon Hill. Behind lies the flood plain of the River Lugg and the hills that lead to the Mortimer Forest. It seems strange in these days of the pandemic, resulting in wholesale changes to our lives, nothing seems to have changed here. A runner pounds past up the hill probably like me glad to get out after the weeks of lockdown. The cawing of Rooks carries across from Eaton Hill. Much of the blossom is finished in the vast cider orchard at lies to the east of the lane. Common Vetch is coming into flower. Three cows, English Longhorns, brown with a wide white stripe down their backs and long horns are in a field.

Past Pattys’ cross. The road now descends to the valley of Holly Brook. Past Colaba. A Peacock cries from the riding centre. A Bullfinch slips out of the hedgerow and quickly back in again. Rooks call loudly from the rookery at the Pudlestone crossroads. I take the lane back towards town. I had intended to go further but my legs are beginning to show the lack of walking over recent weeks. I tried to keep them in shape using a rowing machine but that soon caused my knees to ignite with inflammation. A patch of Greater Stitchwort has come into flower. Coppiced Hazels grow in a small pasture beside Holly book. They clearly have not been cut for many years. Beyond, Rooks stalk the fields looking for food, still calling noisily. The line crosses Stretford Brook. There are a few dwellings along the road, all appear to be modern.

Mullien

The lane joins the A44. A short distance along the road an old track leads down to Stoke Prior Road. Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff and Song Thrush are all in song around the path. The path follows an old hollow-way which is clearly seldom used now, overgrown with Stinging Nettles at some points and marshy at others. On to Stoke Prior Road and past Eaton Hall. Past Eaton Barns towards the A44 junction. Red Campion is flourishing here on the western side of the lane and White Dead-nettle grows thickly on the eastern side.

Over Eaton Bridge and down the old road. On the other side the A49 Teasel plants are growing, thrusting up their spear like leaves. Whorls of Great Mullein leaves, covered in a hairy down, emerge from the tarmac. On one are two Mullein Moth, Cucullia verbasci, caterpillars. White Bryony with pale greenish cream flowers, snakes across the rapidly disappearing pavement. On to the old railway bridge. The first passenger train have seen for weeks passes under the bridge and the old Great Western Railway style signal clatters to red. By the time I get home, my ankles are aching badly but it has been so good to get out again for a proper walk. Route

Saturday – Home – The day should be warm, the sun is shining but there is a wind that just makes it a bit too cool for comfort. However, I decide to plant out beans and tomatoes. Bamboo poles make a frame for runner and climbing French beans. The tomatoes are split between troughs that sit in front of the summerhouse and a row by the fruit cage. Some in hanging baskets are hung on the patio frame. The Conference pear has been leaning for a while and it is getting worse, so a stake is driven into the ground and the tree pulled up some way towards vertical. Another one of the Blackbird fledglings was found dead on the lawn. There seemed to be nothing wrong with it, apart from the fact it had expired. Others are still all over the place, regularly calling for their parents. One runs past me down the path as I am sifting compost. It stands a short distance away just looking at me, so I throw it a worm which is quickly devoured.

Monday – Leominster – The sun shines blindingly up the street. The Blackbird has abandoned his post on the Pinsley Mill apartments but the Chiffchaff still sings on the far side of the railway and along with Blackcap and Robin. The newly opened leaves and freshly grown grass create an intense greenness, a verdancy that slowly fades during the year. Half a dozen Blackbirds are searching the grass in the graveyard. A Wren explodes into song nearby, there is the constant cooing of Wood Pigeons and the occasional harsh bark of a Carrion Crow. The Dandelion clocks have dispersed leaving the stem and a little white pincushion.

Home – More to do in the garden. Broad beans need further tying to their stakes. A narrow space between the greenhouse and fruit cage has been overtaken by buttercups. They look bright but they are so invasive that they need removing. It is a long and tedious job, resulting in four sacks of removed plants. Courgettes and a single Hubbard squash are planted out under cloches. Other beds are hoed. More leeks are transplanted into a trough, hopefully away from the birds that dug up the first ones. A dozen Callaloo seedlings are pricked out into pots. There are plenty more if required.

Thursday – Home – Last night we watered much of the garden. Many flowers and vegetables were all drooping and showing signs of distress. So, of course, at dawn this morning it rained. It was not really enough to make a lot of difference though.

The cloud clears eastwards and the sun starts to heat up the land. A young House Sparrow sits near the feeder chirping at a parent who feeds it patiently. Wood Pigeons crash to and fro, they are incapable of flying around without a lot of fuss and noise. Annoyingly, there are new cats in the area and the Robins are upset about their presence and tick for long periods. Dunnocks slip down to find seed under the feeders then away again. Coal, Blue and Great Tits visit the feeders continuously. They are messy feeders resulting in a lot of seed falling into the tray underneath the seed one. This brings the Wood Pigeons crashing onto the tray to hoover up the spillage.

Sadly, insects are in short supply. A large White-tailed Bumble Bee is frequently in the greenhouse, but few other bees are seen. A few Small White butterflies pass through and the very occasional Small Tortoiseshell.

Friday – Home – More rain in the early hours. The day is stormy with angry grey clouds being driven by a violent wind. It remains dry and there are short periods of sunshine. The tomatoes in the greenhouse are pinched out and tied to their stakes. Around the “natural” area of the garden, i.e. the area that receives virtually no attention, a few Brambles and Stinging Nettles are removed. There is a nettle patch but we try to keep the rest of the area clear of them. Irises are beginning to flower here. The pond is now surrounded by plants and covered in duckweed. My little net has vanished so I am awaiting a new one.

Saturday – Leominster – The high winds have decreased over there still a buffeting breeze. The sun is bright in a largely clear sky. Wood Pigeons call, Jackdaws chack and a Greenfinch is in song. The latter is good news as their numbers have been hugely reduced because of an outbreak of trichomonosis, a parasite-induced disease which prevents the birds from feeding properly. There is a dense tangle of song from the wild, scrubby area on the far side of the railway – Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Dunnock and Robin.

Field Rose

The apple blossom has finished in the millennium orchard. Several of the trees are showing considerable distress possibly due to the lack of water. A dessert apple, Kings Acre Pippin, is in a bad way with numerous dead leaves and the remaining green leaves curled. Into the churchyard. A large Field Rose is covered in white flowers which have yellow centres. Clouds pass over, speeding across the sky on the wind seems to be increasing by the moment. A few drops of rain fall. Parts of the Grange are splattered with the dark red and green leaves of Copper Beeches blown off yesterday’s gales.

Home – The wind continues to increase in strength and grey clouds pass over but not giving any much needed rain. The tomatoes in troughs along the front of the summerhouse are staked and tied up. The courgettes and greenhouse tomato pots are watered. Many tomato plants are already in flower.

Dawn Redwood

Bank Holiday Monday – Leominster – Another bright morning with a clear blue sky and a slight chill to the air. Down the street the dawn chorus has lost its musicality being reduced to Wood Pigeons and Jackdaws. From the scrubland over the railway comes the songs of Blackbird, Dunnock, Song Thrush and Blackcap. Into the churchyard. There are a good number of specimen trees here. The old Sycamore in the corner, the long line of Limes that form the southern perimeter, several Wellingtonias and some other redwoods. One is a Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, a tree from south west China that was only known in the fossil record until 1941 when a living example was discovered by Kan Duo, professor of Forest Management, National Central University, Chongqing. Others include a Coastal Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, from the west coast of the USA, a couple of Atlas Cedars, Cedrus atlantica, from the Atlas Mountains of north Africa, a Snow Gum, Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp. niphophila, from Australasia and a Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata, also from the Clematiswest of the USA. There are also a fair number of Yews.

Home – The continuing lack of rain means we are having to use tap water to irrigate the garden, something we try to avoid. Everything is dry. Indeed, the greenhouse needs watering twice a day. But, at the same time, everything is growing well. Peppers are potted on. Some more Rocket is sown. Over the weekend, red onions, shallots, spring onions, Georgia Green collards, second attempt, and Calvolo nero have been sown. House Sparrows, Blackbirds and Blue Tits are regularly visiting the bird bath, most to drink but some have a quick splash too. A beautiful clematis, white with a very pale pink stripe and black and red centre has flowered high in the shrubbery on the mound