Friday, 27 March 2015

The March allotment


March is the month it all begins.  Seed packets are shaken out, plans are made and the sowing gets under way.

Almost all of the previous year's harvest is exhausted, there are just two or three leeks left, a little kale and some spinach.

I've spent some time weeding, forking over the soil and spreading manure.    The gooseberries, blackcurrants and roses are starting to grow again.  The rhubarb is unfurling and the broad beans are slowly making themselves at home.

The windowsills are filled with seed trays - tomatoes, chillies, courgettes, squashes, popping corn, leeks, sunflowers, rudbeckia and larkspur.  And today I sowed the first seeds into the soil itself.  French breakfast radishes.  It's time.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Colour Collaborative: March: Bird

grey chested buzzard eagle

barn owl

mallards and coot

grey chested buzzard eagle

robin

Ural owl

juvenile mute swan

northern white faced scops owl

lanner falcon

lanner falcon


Indian tawny eagle

goldcrests

Indian tawny eagle

pintails

American sea eagle

long tailed tit

Ural owl

American sea eagle

Bewick's swans

American sea eagle
In the past few years I've really started to discover birds.  What started as a few trips to our local wildfowl and wetlands place turned into a passion for my eldest son, and now we're regular visitors.  We talk to the wardens and other birdwatchers and spend hours watching and learning.  We make occasional visits to bird of prey centres as well, anywhere with birds in fact.  And little by little I've started to understand exactly what it is that enchants so many people.

There are so many amazing feats in the bird world.  The peregrine falcon who reaches 200mph in a dive.  Two hundred miles per hour.  The children are far better at knowing all of the facts than me, they give me little pieces of information about how it has special eyelids that close and how it protects its lungs from the incredible pressure.  Two hundred miles per hour.

Then there's the tiny firecrest that winters in the Mediterranean and north African regions and flies hundreds and hundreds of miles north to breed in spring.  It weighs less than a quarter of an ounce and along with the goldcrest it is the smallest bird you're like to see in Britain.

And the emperor penguin who breeds in the Antarctic winter where the temperature is -40C (-40F) with wind speeds of up to 90mph.  They make a trek of between 30 and 75 miles to the nesting site.  The female lays an egg, then the male pops it on his feet, under his warm belly roll and stands in a huddle with the other dads while the female, who is exhausted, treks back to the sea to feed.  The males shuffle round in their huddle, giving each other a turn in the warmer middle.  They keep doing that, without ever feeding, until the egg hatches.  64 days later.  When the chick hatches, the male feeds it with a little meal that it is able to regurgitate.  Then hopefully the female returns from sea to take over the feeding.  By the time the egg hatches, the male has fasted in these incredibly harsh conditions, for 115 days.

These incredible tales are maybe part of what fascinates the children about birds.  For me, that is only part of it.  I like the way they form a part of our seasons and countryside.  I find it soothing to watch them when life is all going wrong.  They carry on with their lives as they always do, a reminder to me of what is important.  So long as the birds are still singing and building nests, everything will turn out alright in the end.  Life goes on regardless.

So many different birds share our planet, of every colour and size imaginable.  Many have the most incredible colours, and of course I find them beautiful, mesmerising in their iridescent and bright rainbow plumage.  But most of all I like the more subtle colours of the birds I see around me.  Browns of every shade, and delicately patterned feathers with little striations and speckles.  A splash of orange red on the robin who watches me at the allotment, that touch of purple on a mallard's wing, the hint of pink about a long tailed tit.  When we have to hunt for the colour it becomes all the more precious.  When it blends so beautifully with nature it is soothing to the eye.

Birdwatching really is a rewarding pastime, it took me a while to understand that, but I'm happy to have got there in the end.  I have much to learn, but it's thoroughly enjoyable, if you get the chance, do give it a try.  The best way to discover how amazing these creatures are is by finding someone knowledgeable to point things out for you.  You'll probably find just such a person lurking in a hide somewhere.  In my experience, birdwatchers are both helpful and friendly.  It's a good world to join.

      Bird of prey photographs taken at the International Centre for Birds of Prey

      Other photographs taken locally

To visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below:

                       Annie at Annie Cholewa                  Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

                       Sandra at Cherry Heart                    Jennifer at Thistlebear

What is The Colour Collaborative?

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Spectacular inelegance













The second photo is a misty shot taken at the time of the eclipse on Friday.  I didn't quite know how to view it, not having any eclipse glasses, so I just watched the shadows and the dimming of the sunlight.  Two of the boys watched it at school, but the middle boy wasn't allowed to.  I was a bit annoyed about it, he would have so loved to have seen it, he'd been reading his stargazing book all week.  It would have been a good memory to have.

Yesterday we headed down the motorway to Taunton for a music festival.  Not the Glastonbury kind, more the sort with groups of schoolchildren playing things and singing and in one or two memorable cases, dancing as well.  On the way we passed Willow Man, not to be confused with the Wicker Man, although he has been burnt to the ground on one occasion.

After a morning of sitting still listening quietly to music we took a picnic to lovely Vivary Park to let off some steam.  The weather was glorious, and the ice-cream man was out.  The park has a very English feel to it, with a bandstand, some lovely houses round the edge, a stream and plenty of paths for promenading.  There's a little golf course beyond the stream that adds to the green views.

Today was a football free day.  I spent an hour at a birthday party with dozens of hyped up six and seven year olds.  Then we went to the wildfowl and wetlands place after lunch.  There was another bore this weekend - the wave that runs up the river as the sea water from a very high tide is funnelled along the channel.  You can see the resultant water on the flood plain in the penultimate picture.  Hopefully it will force lapwings and other ground nesting birds to find drier sites away from the flood plain.  So if there should be more big tides their chicks will be safe.

The biggest boy went to look round the hides, and I took the other two to the play area.  The littlest boy shinned up the log climbing thing, and then fell off in dramatic style, scraping off a load of skin on the ropes on his way down, and landing horizontally.  Again.  I went to rescue him and brought him back to the bench I'd been sitting on. He was making quite a lot of noise, and what with the spectacular fall, everyone in the crowded play area was watching by this time.  I was facing him, trying to assess the damage (blood or chocolate round the face?), and to get down to his level I flopped down on the bench that I'd been on.   Imagine my surprise when the bench wasn't actually there any more and I flew backwards and hit the ground with an inelegant thump.  I leapt up in an instant and pretended to that it hadn't hurt at all.  The littlest boy was crying and laughing all at the same time.  Oh my, between us we are so clumsy and accident prone.  It turned out that the bench hadn't actually moved, it was fixed to the ground.  It must have been my faulty sense of direction.  Combined with the clumsy thing, well, let's just say it's never dull round here.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Bad hair day














I overslept today.  I don't like alarm clocks, and I'm usually awake really early so it's not normally a problem.  But every so often I don't wake up, and then we're all late and there's no time to wash my hair, so it's frizzy and fuzzy and feeling wrong all day.  Today was one of those days.  I had to make a second trip to school as well, to drop off the middle boy's recorder for a lesson he hadn't been told about, which added to the feeling of the day getting away from me.  It was one of those days where I didn't really accomplish very much.

I did hack open the last winter squash though, and used some of it to make brownies.  It was really hard to get into though, it make me think I probably won't grow this variety (Turk's Turban) this year.  I had visions of the knife slipping as I pushed down on it with all my weight.

Yesterday was far more productive.  Down at the allotment I did some weeding, spread some manure over the asparagus bed and planted two dozen broad bean plants.  At home I started unravelling a pink silk scarf that I've never worn.  It's very bright, but I think if it was nicely knitted I might wear it sometimes.  The yarn is gorgeous, too nice to be stuffed sadly at the back of the cupboard.  I've got yarn for this cardigan as well, and I'm still thinking about that blanket.  Is it a symptom of spring I wonder, that desire to start too many things?

I spent some time "randomly" arranging quilt squares as well.  One hundred and twenty of them.  Now they just need to be sewn together.  Check back with me in a year or two.

The book belongs to the biggest boy, but I love looking through it too.  It's the Observer's Book of Birds' Eggs, and all of the eggs are illustrated in actual size.  We've been reading Arthur Ransome's "Great Northern?", so I had a look at divers' eggs.  The tiny ones are fascinating as well.  Imagine how small those little birds are.  The goldcrest's egg is about 13mm long.  Some of the eggs are beautifully coloured and speckled too.  The Observer's books are quite lovely, small enough to fit into a pocket or rucksack but full of information.  If you want to see a couple of pages from the book of birds, have a look at Jacquie's post, she has some photos of hers.

The piggie has been a bit under the weather for the past couple of days.  I'm hoping that sunshine and grass will help.  The vet is a great believer in sunshine therapy.  Let's hope the high pollution goes soon as well.  And a nice cloudless sky for viewing the eclipse would be good.  The children are all going to be not looking directly at it at school tomorrow, with some complicated arrangement of cardboard.  I've no idea how I'll be looking at it, without actually looking at it, but if the skies are clear tomorrow I'll think of something.  Wishing you safe viewing.  CJ xx

Sunday, 15 March 2015

A weekend by the river






















We went on our first bike ride of the year on Saturday.  It was really cold, but very good for the spirit.  We ended up on the bank of the river.  I found a coconut and tried to persuade the children that it had bobbed here all the way from Jamaica.  One of my very best friends lives in Jamaica now.  I miss her.  I like to think of her sending me a coconut on the tide.  

When we got back the boys made a fire in the garden in the middle boy's birthday fire bowl.  It was the day that the first peach blossom broke and the day that we found frogspawn in the pond.  Nature waking up.

Today we did the football thing this morning and the birdwatching thing this afternoon.  It made me think that life is good.  These ordinary things that we do make for happy days.  There's a duckling in the picture after the fire picture.  The first one we've seen.  I tried enlarging him, but I couldn't make it stick.  Technology and me.  Sigh.  There's a buzzard in the picture of the concrete bunker as well.  I didn't even try enlarging him.  

I climbed up the big tower with the biggest boy and sat gazing out over the river.  The other side is so mysterious.  I shall go over there one day and see what it looks like on this side.  I can't see it from here.

Wishing a happy week to you all.  CJ xx