Saturday – Leominster – A grey morning with rain threatened, in other words, traditional English Bank Holiday weather. The town is bedecked with red, white and blue in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, something we will avoid. A Blackcap sings as it moves along the hedge beside the railway. A Chiffchaff sings near the river. Gangs of Swifts sweep overhead, screaming loudly. I wade into a sea of poppies in the bottom area of the garden to clear some space around the young fruit trees; they are in danger of being swamped. It is a tricky time in the garden. Purple sprouting broccoli, leeks, courgettes and pumpkins all need planting out but there is no room. Potatoes will be a couple more weeks yet as will broad beans and garlic. The last has got rust, I was hoping this area of the garden was free from the spores but obviously not. Roses are coming into flower. An old tree stump is covered in tiny purple flowers, a clematis and it is enhanced by delicate pink Dog Roses. Purple irises have risen to over four feet tall near the pond. A Blackbird over the wall lifts his shining yellow beak towards the heavens and pours out his song. House Sparrows chatter in the bushes.
Wednesday – Leominster – Another astronomical event is missed because of cloud. This morning there was a transit of Venus, the planet crossing the disc of the sun. I saw the last one in 2004, which was the first one since 1882, but the next one now is over a century away in 2117. The sun finally appeared above the cloud layer around quarter to six. But the event was over by then. So I collected a large bag of Elderflowers for squash.
Bodenham Lake – Kay and I head down to the lake before 9 o’clock as rain is threatened. Teasels are growing by the path, often next to last year’s dead stem. Long bright green spears stand well over a foot high. A tall Hogweed has a flower head which is yet to open and is deep pink despite the plant being one of the white umbellifers. We return to the car park and head off towards the River Lugg. The ground here is old concrete and clinker from the gravel pit operations. Biting Stonecrop grows in clumps with its yellow flowers at the top of fleshy leaved stems. Dog Roses are various shades of pale pink. Drops of rain or dew remain on the petals. Ox-eye Daisies rise out of the verges. A Speckled Wood butterfly rests in the sun on a Stinging Nettle. Huge leaves of Burdock lie in the swathes of nettles, some with great spikes of flower heads rising over three feet high and still growing. The sun, surrounded by dark pewter clouds, shines over the spire of St Michael’s church. White Cow Parsley delicately set off the bright pink of Red Campion, a natural combination as good as any gardener could envisage. The river is still running fast but not so deep. There is a curved weir under the footbridge but no indication if there was a leet off it to feed a mill. We head back to the churchyard where we search for and find the grave of Florence Harley Nott, who with her husband John, who died in Alexandria in the First World War, owned the house for which our home was the coach house.
Home – It is time again to sort out the compost. It is a back-breaking task as one of the large wooden bins needs emptying into the other, that one being empty now. Then the contents of the three plastic bins are transferred into the newly emptied bin. The work is punctuated by sudden bursts of rain but I keep going until the job is done. I might be dirty, hot and sweaty but it is a satisfying feeling having three empty bins ready to be refilled with garden and kitchen waste.
Friday – Humber – The second round of the BTO Nesting Bird survey. Waiting for a dry, sunny morning seems a forlorn hope so off Maddy and I go. At least it is not raining, a state of affairs that does not even last until we get to Steens Bridge. However, the rain is light despite the stormy clouds overhead. The footpaths have welcomed the wet weather and are only just passable – if only for me, poor Maddy tries to forge ahead but stands and looks round at me with a worried expression as she faces a wall of Cow Parsley, Stinging Nettles and Cleavers. I get her behind me and press ahead, trampling down a path for her. At one point she wanders off into the wheat crop. I can see a ripple where she is moving through the crop. I call her back but she keeps going in the wrong direction. Another call brings a little soaking wet head popping up above the grain stalks desperately trying locate me. She rejoins me absolutely drenched.
There are hardly any birds anywhere in these fields, a few Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons flying over, a Blackbird singing in the distance on the roof of the farmhouse and a Dunnock. As the path approaches Humber a Tawny Owl suddenly emerges from an Oak and flies off into the woods leading down to the brook. Its passage causes alarm amongst Blackbirds in the wood. The village is quiet apart from a large flock of Jackdaws around the church. Not a single Blue or Great Tit or Greenfinch, birds that I would expect to find here. Things are still very quiet up to the farm above Stoke Prior, the western edge of my square. However, as I set off down the road to the A44 a small raptor flashes across the fields, sweeping low over the hedges. It is so small it can only be a Merlin, a surprise as they are regarded as a scarce species in Herefordshire. Along the lane to the alternative energy centre. Cleavers have grown right up the hedgerows, covering them in bright green foliage. A clacking noise comes from the hedge. Peering inside I can see a nest so I back off to prevent disturbance. A Whitethroat is nearby making the clacking sound, cross that I am disturbing it.
Tuesday – Mortimer Forest – The sun shines from a mainly cloudy sky. Foxgloves have come into flower and tall spikes of deep pink rise above green bracken. Tiny jewels of pink are lower down in the bracken, Herb Robert. A Blackbird sings, a Blackcap rasps a warning, Wood Pigeons coo in the distance, a Chiffchaff starts up and then falls silent, all against a background of chattering Blue Tits. Flowers are everywhere, pink Clover, purple Common Vetch and Ground Ivy, blue Forget-me-nots and yellow Creeping Buttercups. A single Common Spotted Orchid with large dark spots on its leaves is just about to blossom. Brambles may be the bane of our lives in the garden but a young leaf is still a thing of beauty, emerald green with a red-brown fringe. The sun filters through the trees creating patches of light. The poor weather means there are few insects abroad. A single Speckled Wood butterfly and a few micro-moths flit around the banks beside the track through Haye Park. Ragwort is yet to flower but already has visitors – numerous Garden Chafers, beetles with iridescent green thoraces and rusty elytra. A stump near the Iron Age enclosure has a new growth of Honey Fungus.
Thursday – Church Stretton – Kay and I wander around this pleasant town. Into the antique emporium. We are still looking for a table or cupboard for our lounge and cannot find the right thing. Again today, there are a number of quite interesting pieces of furniture but none of them are right. Some are simply a bit boring, others are the wrong size and yet others are just not quite there. We then head off to the Cardingmill Valley. The place is swarming with coachloads of school children, many in the stream doing “bug-hunts”. We wander up the side of the valley to the Boiling Well road. A young ram decides that he would quite like to make friends with Maddy. I decide this is not a good idea and, whilst Maddy behaves impeccably, I have some difficulty seeing the silly lamb off. Meadow Pipits dart around the gorse.
Friday – Leominster – Bright sunshine lightens the house but as soon as Maddy and I head across to the Grange cloud has covered the sky. By the time we are round to Pinsley Mead a rainbow arcs over the Priory and it is raining again. This does not stop the constant cooing of Wood Pigeons or the cawing of Carrion Crows. Over a dozen Blackbirds and a similar number of Starlings are searching the Grange for worms or anything else edible.
Bodenham – Showers flit past on the way to the lake but there bright sunshine makes the newly washed leaves gleam. Grey clouds still scurry across the sky. Blackbirds, Great Tits, Wrens and Blue Tits sing. Apart from Dog Roses there are few flowers about – it must be a gap period between the spring and the summer bloomers. Around on the edge of the meadow, great creamy bunches of flowers cover the Elders. The meadow is spotted yellow with Meadow Buttercups and Birdsfoot Trefoil and purple with Red Clover. Ravens bark as they pass overhead. A patch of the scrape has emerged from the water and is the resting place for several Mallard, the drakes moulting into eclipse. A Cuckoo calls from the far side of the lake. Canada Geese are noisy, hidden on the island. There is a complete absence of goslings, ducklings or cygnets. Were the nests all washed out by the very high levels of water in the lake or did the wildfowl just not breed here? A Common Buzzard circles slowly overhead. The bank in front of the hide is covered by a gently swaying mass of Ox-eye Daisies. The scrape is suddenly filled by preening Canada Geese, splashing to clean their wing feathers. Several Cormorants fish or preen on the pontoon. A Tufted Duck flies rapidly across the water, landing on the south end. The enormous Burdock at the foot of the paddock is even larger with tall, bushy flower spikes but no heads yet. A Willow Warbler’s descending trill is clear and sweet. A Green Woodpecker flies over from Westfield Wood to the Willows and Alders along the lake edge. These trees ring to the call of a Chiffchaff. Into the orchards and its raining again. The wind is rising and the outlook seems decidedly wet! Young Blue Tits dash about. The crop of apples looks very mixed. Worcester Pearmains seem to have plenty of small fruit developing but other species have no fruit at all, just brown, shrivelled flower husks.
Sunday – Home – Another day interrupted by rain. I have not seen the statistics for the month but reports have stated that after the wettest April on record, it could be the wettest June. Remembering June 2007 when South Yorkshire seemed to disappear under water, it seems difficult to imagine this month could be wetter. What happened to “Flaming” June? In between the showers the garlic is lifted. Not a great crop but fairly successful. The ground is cleared and three more courgettes go in. The parsnips are weeded, a painful process as there are numerous small Stinging Nettle plants in the weeds, my hands are still buzzing several hours later. Several pounds of broad beans are picked and podded. The mange-tout peas are beginning to crop well but the chard has bolted and needs eating soon. Slugs are enjoying the wet conditions and having a feast on the ripening strawberries – organic slug pellets seem to have little effect. Gooseberries are also ripening well and will need cropping before the Blackbirds find them. Lettuces are bolting in the greenhouse and growing well in the outside bed. Parsley is running to flower but it has done well! Potatoes are still very small and will be some weeks yet before being ready to dig. The flower beds still have lots of colour but many of the taller plants have suffered because of the excessive rain.
Tuesday – Leominster – Overnight rain has left everywhere sodden. The day starts clear blue and bright then darkens as it clouds over and drizzle falls. Yet a little later the cloud passes and hot sun shines. Down by the railway Dog Roses flower and banks of brambles and Cleavers climb ever higher. A Chiffchaff calls near the White Lion. Along the river where a thicket of roses blossom. A Bumble Bee visits a few flowers then flies off. Another appears and starts visiting the roses but knows within an instance that they have already been serviced. A Yellow Dung Fly, Scathophagia stercoraria, suns itself on a Cow Parsley flower head. At the confluence of the rivers Lugg and Kenwater, House Martins sweep low over the water. Screaming Swifts are higher. A Grey Wagtail bobs on a rock in the bank. The bridge carrying the A44 over the River Lugg has a stanchion on the north side marked LB and a stone plaque on the south recording “HCC 54 1940”.
Wednesday – Croft Ambrey – The sun is shining but it is cool in the shady woods. The track is still muddy. Foxgloves are in peak flowering now, pink spikes scattered through the green undergrowth. A Song Thrush sings loudly. Other songs are briefer until a Blackcap pours forth. Pink flowers proliferate beside the track – Herb Robert, Red Campion and Black Horehound. An Ash has fallen and been cut into roundels. The recently repaired dam between Fish Pools is clearly failing again as it has been roped off. Nuthatches call overhead, a Robin sings and insects buzz and drone. The limestone quarry is recorded from 1795. The limestone is Silurian, 420 million years old, from when this area was a warm, shallow sea in the tropics on the edge of a continent called Avalonia. The path and rill at the end of the valley are both flowing with water. These are often dry and it seems the springs have moved over the years as they are not in the places shown on older maps. An ancient Elder has fallen across the path. Long-tailed Tits flit through the bushes. Water bubbles up out of a small hole in the forestry track. Another tree blocks the path near the top, a tall spindly Beech although this one fell because of extensive rot in the base of the trunk rather than being uprooted. Up onto Croft Ambrey past large stands of Foxgloves, small greenish yellow Crosswort and tiny blue jewels of Forget-me-nots. A Dor Beetle stumbles through the grass, living up to its name of “Lousy Watchman” as it has numerous blue mites on its head. From Croft Ambrey, Wigmore nestles under the ruins of its castle bathed in sun. The hills are misty. A Blackcap sings on the slopes of Leinthall Common. A Common Buzzard circles over the woods in the valley below. Sheeps’s Sorrel grows in the grass. St Mark’s Flies, black with drooping legs, are annoying at head height. Hedge Woundwort’s pink flowers peep out of the long grass. The woods down from the fort towards the castle are ringing with calling Chiffchaffs. Some chicks are calling from a nest nearby. Down in the bottom field a cow is bellowing at the farm gate, seemingly distressed about something. Other cows with calves are in the field but a lot of cattle are in the farm somewhere and she has decided she should be with them. The car park is very busy which is good news for the castle.
Thursday – Leominster – The morning of the summer solstice arrives with a sky covered by thick cloud. No chance of watching the sun rise today. It actually gets darker as the morning progresses and rain falls yet again. By early afternoon it is vaguely lighter but still raining. The Grange is sodden underfoot as I squelch across. Maddy’s ball barely bounces as it loses all its energy on the wet grass and mud. Tiny red cider apples are appearing on the trees, the promise of a decent crop in the autumn. Magpies are squabbling in the trees on the edge of the churchyard. The Kenwater is flowing rapidly and is muddy brown in colour. Elderflowers are beginning to go over, one wonders how many have been fertilised considering the poor weather conditions recently.
Friday – Bodenham Lake – Another grey morning with blustery wind and drizzle. Pink Dog Roses and yellow Biting Stonecrop (so called, I assume for its peppery taste) brighten the track-side. There is less of the scrape showing above water than last week. A Great Crested Grebe dives over the submerged parts. Canada Geese bathe and preen. Mallard and a drake Tufted Duck sleep. A flock of over 100 Canada Geese drift across the south of the lake. Five Cormorants, all pale non-breeding birds, are on the pontoon. The Tufted Duck awakens and examines its surroundings with his yellow eyes. He too starts preening. A pair of Mute Swans upend to feed on the far side; no sign of any cygnets.
Monday – Hergest Ridge – It seems a rare phenomenon, blue sky overhead and warm sun on my back. The sides of the road are thickly overgrown with Stinging Nettles, Hedge Woundwort, Herb Bennet and Dock. Wild Arum are now stalks of green berries. Robins and Chiffchaffs sing, a Nuthatch calls. Up the track onto the ridge. A Garden Chafer stumbles through the short grass, they are everywhere this year. A Yellowhammer calls from one of the Rowans. A vast swathe of Foxgloves spreads up the hill in a long strip through the bracken. An occasional white Foxglove stands out in the dense pink array. The path continues up the great back of the ridge. Skylarks ascend and descend, all meanwhile filling the air with song. Ahead are the great hills of Radnor, behind the gentle domes and ridges of Herefordshire. The conical hills in Canon Pyon, Pyon Hill and Butthouse Knapp, are clearly visible. It is said the Devil was carrying two sacks of soil from Dinmore Hill to bury Hereford because the piety of the people of the city angered him. However, either a holy man persuaded him that the people of Hereford were in fact wicked or the cock crowed and the Devil dumped the soil which made the hills. They are also known a Robin Hood’s Butts as it is said Robin Hood could stand on one hill and shoot an arrow into a tree on the other. The cone shaped is caused by a cap of pedogenic limestone (meaning “soil-forming”), also known as Psammosteus Limestone after a characteristic fossil fish recorded from it; Psammosteus anglicus, on top of Raglan mudstone. The rich green land slowly fades to blue in the mist. The church spire of Evenjobb can be seen between Herrick Hill and Stanner Rocks. The landscape leading up to the village is full of reminders of millennia of human occupation – tumuli, a standing stone, a Roman fort, Offa’s Dyke and a motte and bailey.
The ground is covered with tiny white flowers in the grasses – Heath Bedstraw. Round the old race course to the Whet Stone, a glacial erratic. Meadow Brown butterflies rest on the grass. They seem very small for their species. A long path slants down the side of the ridge to a short saddle. A Jay disappears into a stand of conifers. Three sheep run on ahead of us which keeps Maddy alert. She would love to round them up but obeys my commands to wait for me. From the saddle the path climbs steeply up Hanter Hill. A family of Stonechats watch from Gorse bushes. A Raven stand on a rock outcrop on the top of the hill surveying his kingdom. On top a cooling breeze is blowing. A sheep is making a bizarre hissing sound which fascinates Maddy. From below the clanking and rumbling of the stone quarry rises up the hill. There is quite an extensive cloud cover now but the sun emerges from time to time. I recover from the exertion of the slope quite quickly. It is difficult deciding where to go walking since my heart went into permanent flutter. The empty wilds of the Radnor Forest seems an unnecessary risk but even here on a popular route such as Hergest Ridge I have only seen one other person. Meadow Pipits fly down to the Gorse squeaking all the way. A Raven glides by and chuckles. Maddy’s patience with a sheep that has been standing and staring at her finally snaps but she breaks off her pursuit immediately on being called. I could sit here all day but I had better head back. Going up might have had me puffing but the descent is sheer pain as my knees protest! A male Stonechat sings from the top of a Hawthorn. A Yellowhammer starts singing “a little bit of bread and no cheeeese” a few feet away. A family of Linnets move over the Gorse. Up the slope again towards the top of Hergest Ridge. Mistle Thrushes gather beakfuls of grubs. A Chaffinch sings from the top of a Hawthorn. A Tree Pipit launches from a bush and soars into the sky then parachutes down into the bracken, calling the whole time. Heading down towards Kington again. Far below a field of sheep have lined themselves along a farm track for some reason. More Stonechats call from the Gorse bushes. Suddenly there are people, several groups and pairs heading uphill. It is noisy back at the top of Ridgebourne Road. Blackbirds and Nuthatches both vocalising their alarm calls loudly. Then a Common Buzzard moves nonchalantly from one branch to another, seemingly oblivious to the cacophony and the two Blackbirds flapping and bobbing just beside him or her. Eventually, the buzzard glides off through the woods and peace resumes.
Home – Kay calls me to the garden where a beautiful moth is flying around the Swiss Chard. It is a Cinnabar moth. I have often seen its caterpillars that feed on Ragwort, but rarely actually seen the adult moth.
F riday – Bodenham Lake – It is now officially the wettest June on record. That was reinforced yesterday. Mid morning and the sky blackened and it grew darker and darker. A few rolls of thunder then a tremendous downpour. Many places in the West Midlands suffered flooding; a man lost his life when his vehicle was trapped in flooded water near Bitterley. Today black clouds drift across the sky. However, there are periods of bright sunshine. The wind is blustery. The track to the lake is fairly quiet. A couple of Robins sing and a Carrion Crow caws overhead. The eastern end of the lake contains the pair of Mute Swans which seem to have no intention of trying for a second brood, assuming the normally timed attempt was washed out. From the hide, the usual crowd are present – Canada Geese, well over 100; Mallard, all the drakes in eclipse; a few Tufted Duck; Coot, another pair of Mute Swans; four Cormorants on the pontoon and less usual, a pair of Greylags on the tiny amount of exposed shingle on the scrape. There is not a single young bird in sight. A lone Ringlet butterfly rests on a raindrop-speckled blade of grass. A Chiffchaff calls continuously from the old Worcester Pearmains, the largest trees in the orchard. A Common Buzzard glides effortlessly and speedily out of the Westfield Wood and across the valley.