Tuesday – Leominster – And the rain continues. Floods are reported around the country and, although they are not as widespread or deep as July 2007, places like Tewkesbury again look like islands in a sea of rusty water. Here everything is sodden, the grass squelches underfoot on The Grange. A Mistle Thrush takes advantage of the water-softened soil to probe for worms. A group of small yapping dogs surround Maddy who responds with savage barking and much bearing of teeth, although I cannot help noticing her tail is wagging and she actually seems to be enjoying herself greatly! There is consternation in the Civic Society regarding a new tree on the Grange. I recorded above that a Wych Elm was felled in January – whether because it was diseased or storm damaged depends on to whom one talks. The Society agreed to pay for a replacement as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee tree plantings. We asked for another Wych Elm or a Hornbeam, but definitely not a Copper Beech. We also asked to be informed about the date of planting so a little event could be organised. A sapling was planted without any of us knowing about it (apart from one member who found out by accident). It now transpires that the tree is not a Hornbeam but, yes, a Copper Beech! A strongly worded missive has been sent.
Wednesday – Leominster – It has finally stopped raining but is still very damp, grey and misty. Maddy is still not being allowed to play with her ball following her shoulder injury, which she is slowly beginning to accept. There are plenty of rabbits in the Millennium Park. When we were in the fields during the BTO bird count at Humber, Maddy was chasing rabbits into the undergrowth. Here she just ignores them and clearly gives out signals that she is not interested as the rabbits pretty much ignore her. No idea why there is this difference of response. Several Swallows swoop over the tree tops.
Dinmore – Fields south of Leominster are flooded. A Mute Swan feeds on the newly submerged grass. The River Arrow has burst its banks. I cannot get to Bodenham lake as a bus is blocking the road because a car in front cannot or will not drive through a flood at the junction – probably quite sensibly. Back to the main road and up to Queenswood Country Park on Dinmore Hill. Bluebell are in flower, most blue, some pink and a few white clumps. Blackbirds, Robins, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Great and Blue Tits are filling the air with song. Acers are in leaf, some glorious, rich reds, others delicate greens. Cherries are in blossom. Some magnolias still have flowers but others have not fared well in the recent rains. Sad pink petals lay browning on the ground like discarded pieces of silk. But everywhere is now green! The view from the lookout is mist and flooded fields. Some large areas of white are poly-tunnels but all down the Lugg there is extensive flooding. A park ranger tells me that even if I had got through to Bodenham Lakes I would not be able to park as the area is closed off whilst an arboreal team deals with two fallen trees. New leaves are so pristine and perfect. Ivy puts out delicate, light green leaves so different to the darkened, dusty ones of other seasons.
Friday – Leominster – After another day of rain, today is dull but dry. The streets are fairly chaotic as the fair is town, set up in Corn Square and Broad Street. The Friday market has been moved to the corner of the car park, which does not please the traders. In fairness, the Council could be more helpful in erecting signs to direct people to the temporary site. The western part of the Grange and the playing field have been mown but they have left the other area. It would seem simpler and cheaper to do the whole lot at one go. Maddy has her ball again as she seems to have stopped limping, although sometimes her swerves and turns look like they will injure her again. She is getting a mouthful of mown grass every time she grabs the ball and lays down, drops the ball and tries to get the blades off her tongue. A loud but sweet and complex song comes from the Elder bushes at the bottom of the playing field. A small, nondescript brown bird flits away to the shrubs beside the railway and the song explodes from there. It is a wonder that one of our visually dullest birds, the Garden Warbler, is probably the second best songster of spring, the title inevitably being assigned to the Nightingale. Sadly, the Garden Warbler is the only one of these two that most people will ever hear now as the Nightingale is becoming increasingly rare. A freight train thunders past. The River Kenwater is still flowing fast, deep and muddy brown. Swallows twist and turn overhead gathering insects.
Saturday – High Offley – Our annual meet at the Anchor at High Offley on the Shropshire Union Canal. The weather is changeable. Getting the tent erected seems awkward. It is odd how sometimes everything is easy and other times every guy rope and every peg conspires to create difficulties. By the time we finish everyone has arrived and it is time for a few pints. A Whitethroat springs up from a hedgerow, pirouettes and drops out of sight again. Swallows and House Martins move over in good numbers. It start to rain so we move inside. After a few pints of 6x we retreat to the canal boat for home cooked goodies. Early evening it is down the tow-path to Norbury Junction. A Swift scythes overhead, my first of the year. The Rolls Royce in the woods is being restored. We have a mediocre pint then head back. The world is green, the banks are lush, all the trees are now in leaf. The last Primroses are glowing in the woods. Dark sapphire Bluebells emerge through the grass. Various members of the dandelion family shine like miniature suns. Grey Herons rise from the canal and circle over the canal squawking harshly. The first Red Campions flower. Song Thrushes dominate the avian chorus.
Sunday – High Offley – Sunday morning and a Blackbird starts the dawn chorus shortly after 3am, although there have been squawks from Mallard and Canada Geese throughout the night. Tawny Owls called just after darkness fell but are silent now. A Robin joins in and a little later a Song Thrush. Blackcaps, Chaffinches, House Sparrows, Whitethroats and Wood Pigeons follow and the bubbling cry of a Curlew comes from afar. Off north along the canal. It is bright with a chilly breeze. Mallard and a pair of Mute Swans grace the water. Clump of what are probably St Georges’ Mushrooms grow beside the tow-path. There are more boats than ever moored along the canal sides, well over a mile of them. Ten Swallows sit on wires and peel away as Maddy approaches. A Shelduck is in the middle of a field of grass, Skylarks sing above. Back at the camp-site there is a single call from a Cuckoo but, unusually we do not hear it again. Late morning we set off in the boat, with Dave and Joy, Ken and Brigid northwards up the Shropshire Union Canal. Past green fields with black and white Friesian cows, sleeping Mallard and fat Wood Pigeons. The sun appears intermittently. Under bridges built of pale grey stone. Gorse glows yellow. Chaffinches sing from the top of bushes. Trees are still coming into leaf. Up a field boundary are several trees which look like Elms, although they are very rare now because of Dutch Elm Disease. A Moorhen creeps under a Willow and appears to settle down on a nest. Past Shebdon Wharf with its old workshop and crane. The banks of the canal are covered by pristine green leaves from numerous species with various flowers dotting this verdant background. Red Campion, the occasional patch of glorious bright yellow Marsh Marigolds, patches of Violets, little blue Ground Ivy flowers with their kidney-shaped leaves, tall spikes of Water Soldier, Dandelions, Cuckoo Flowers and many more.
We approach the wharf of Cadbury’s Knighton plant, now owned by Premier Foods. Because of the local landowner’s support for King Charles II, an Act was passed in 1660 which exempted Knighton from all civic and military taxes, an exemption that lasted until the 1970s. Cadbury’s were attracted by this exemption and built their factory there in 1911. The wharf was used for the shipment by canal of chocolate crumb, made with local milk, to Bournville. This continued until 1961. The canal now enters a small gorge dug out through Lower Knighton Wood. The only duckling we see on the canal swims along the side of the canal, the parents seem to have flown off! There is a sudden downpour of hail! On past a fine black-and-white farmhouse and on into another deep gorge, Woodeaves Cutting, completed around 1832. There is quite a problem with slippage here. At one point a large section has slid down and trees have had to be felled to stop them obstructing the canal. Large boulders seem to have broken away down the plane of the stone and are being held in place by trees. Mosses and ferns grow up the near vertical stone faces. Two bridges, Hollings Bridge and High Bridge are unusual by having the normal shape of a canal bridge perched on top of brick abutments rising to over 12 metres above the canal.
Out of the cutting at Tyrley Wharf where the first locks for many a mile are situated. A delightful Georgian house, built 1837, stands by the wharf. We turn round here and start to head back. An odd collection of gnomes stand beside the tow-path and a garden hut. A stop is made at Goldstone to demolish just a small percentage of one of our massive Indian meals, including an extraordinary stuffed baby squid dish from Dave, sheer delight! Maddy is getting used to the boat now and stands looking over the side at the passing world. However, she has little concept of distance and when I get off and push the bow out to assist our moving off, she decides to follow, too late, and ends up in the canal. I have to haul her out by the scruff of her neck. We chug back southwards. High above is a rookery with the occupants making their usual racket. We disturb a Grey Heron that moves off at our approach but just lands a little way up the canal, so is disturbed again in a short time. Eventually, it gives up and flaps off over the trees. A Cormorant glides in and lands but like the Heron is in the wrong place and soon gives up as we get too close.
Saturday – Home – Stuck at home all week as my blood pressure has dropped to near hypotensive levels due to the drugs trying to control flutter. It would be silly to head out into the hills with the possibility of becoming even slightly incapacitated. Today is sunny, a change from the near continuous wet weather of recent days. Indeed, last night was clear which resulted in a slight frost. Luckily, I decided to cover my rapidly growing potatoes with fleece. Peas are now rising up the pea sticks; broad beans are in flower and hopefully soon to produce pods; lettuces in the greenhouse large enough to provide a few leaves; onions and garlic both growing tall and healthy; French beans sprouting in the greenhouse as well as leeks, courgettes and cabbage and sweet corn sprouting in the bathroom. Hopefully, the frosts will have ended by the time the tender varieties are ready to be planted out, probably in just a week or so. Swifts have arrived and are high overhead. Blackcaps sing in good numbers around the Priory churchyard. The local Chiffchaff is still singing loudly in the gardens. The flower beds are running riot with their lushness, the rain may have been excessive but has certainly greened the world. Bluebells grow in profusion covering areas with an azure mist. The big apple trees – Howgate Wonder and Bramley – are still in blossom but the young trees have already finished. Both dessert pears are covered in tiny fruit. Small black Wolf Spiders, Pardosa amentata, scurry over the stones around the pond. The tadpoles which were indoors in a little aquarium have been released into the pond.
Monday – Bodenham Lakes – The sun is shining but threatened by building black clouds. Song Thrushes, Chiffchaffs, Goldfinches and Blackcaps sing. I am sure there are other songs but distinguishing them in the constant flow is difficult. A few Red Campions peep through beds of nettles. A Garden Warbler explodes into continuous song. Forget-me-nots grow at the edge of the Willow copses. A swarm of House Martins swirl over the edge of the lake. Canada Geese depart in a whirr of wings and cacophony of honking. Round to the meadow where over eighty House Martins sweep low across the lush grass. Into the Beech and Birch copse. Tiny insects fill the air. The water levels have risen considerably recently and the scrape and reed bed have vanished. A couple of Cormorants stand on the pontoon, a third joins them, its back shining with water. Sand Martins skim the lake. Fifty or more Swifts appear over the island and depart again equally quickly. A single Mallard and Coot appears to be the only waterfowl other than Canada Geese. Dinmore Woods are a glorious mottled green of many shades. A Common Buzzard is calling and suddenly one is high above the lake seeming to have just winked into existence. Hawthorn is coming into flower, May in May. A couple of dozen House Martins sit on the wires. Many trees in the orchard have blossom and leaves, although a few are completely bare still. The two trees that fell at the beginning of the month lay in sawn logs, one near the entrance gate and one near the orchard gate. Both look to be Black Poplars.
Friday – Ryelands – Up Ryelands Road and southwards along the ridge. The path is lined by Stinging Nettles, Hedge Mustard and Cleavers. Where the Hawthorns leave a gap, Cow Parsley spring up. There is a lot of cloud, but it is thin and the sun is warming despite a stiff breeze. Across the Arrow plain are large slabs of yellow – fields of Oil-seed Rape. Some fields, such as the one by the path have a different crop but the residue seed from a previous season means there are hundreds of Rape plants flowering within. Skylarks sing overhead. Linnets fly by twittering. Whitethroats dance on the breeze scratching out their song. A Swallow sweeps low across a crop of legumes. Down to Hereford Road and across to Laundry Lane. The Orphans Printing Press building is empty and forlorn. An orphans’ home was set up in two houses in Ryelands Road in 1873 at a cost of £1,250. The Orphans Press was a printing business set up by Henry Newman in Broad Street at the same time to support the homes. The company moved to Laundry Lane but now has premises in the Enterprise Park. An application has been made to replace the old premises with ten dwellings. A footpath leads down from Laundry Lane into the industrial estate, round into the Castlefields estate and then past the Earl Mortimer School and Sports Centre.
Saturday – Leominster – Rain overnight has been replaced by a steely sky. A Sedge Warbler sings his scratchy song near the where the railway crosses the Kenwater. Blackcaps and Garden Warblers are also in full flow. It never fails to amuse me the way the rabbits lope off in a relaxed manner as Maddy approaches. She ignores them entirely now. Squawking from the chimney stack of the old cottage that parallels our garden two doors away indicates that baby Jackdaws have hatched. The adults stand outside the gap into the stack, heads on one side, peering in. There is a spider silk thread across the entrance to our rather expensive bird box indicating that nothing is going in or out – rather disappointing. Bean, sweetcorn and courgette seedlings are moved out of the greenhouse to harden off. I am worried the broad beans are not going to set as there are few bees around in this cold and wet weather. Our builder, Dean, is digging out a broken concrete flow-away under the downpipe at the front of the house. The cracked concrete has allowed water in and damp is rising up the wall. He has found the original cobbles underneath and hard stone under them.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – Patches of blue sky peep through the clouds which are rapidly heading east. Chiffchaffs, Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons sing and call. Conifers have pale green tips to their branches. Shoots of large leaves of Foxglove are abundant beside the path. Broom flowers a chromium yellow. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. A Wren sings. Suddenly I have a shadow as the sun emerges from the clouds. Azure Bluebells and virginal white Stitchwort stand against a vibrant green sward of grasses. The hillside cleared of conifers but now green with Birch saplings rings to the songs of Willow Warblers and Blackcaps. Bowls of fiddle-headed ferns unfold. Out onto Climbing Jack Common and everywhere is blue with Bluebells. Whitethroat and Willow Warbler compete in song along the hedges. Chelsea Flower Show starts today but I doubt there will be much there that can compete with this sea of blue across the hillside. A Skylark lifts from the blue ground towards a blue heaven. A Tree Pipit parachutes down onto an Oak at the edge of the bluebell field. Up to High Vinnalls through a common of yellow Broom across which flit Meadow Pipits. The hills are hidden by mist. My recent inactivity is telling – I am exhausted. I sit on the seat by the radio tower and am serenaded by a Chiffchaff. Back into the conifer saplings and room. A Jay flies silently across the hilltop. A pair of Swifts scythe past. A Whitethroat launches into the air, twists and turns singing throughout. A Willow Warbler and Blackcap sing. The sun emerges again. Black St Mark’s flies (named after the saint’s day of April 25th when they traditionally appear) float in the breeze, dangling their legs. A Common Buzzard lifts from the Oak and quarters the Bluebell meadows. As soon as it leaves the tree, the Tree Pipit rises from a low bush and reclaims its perch high in the Oak. Back down in the woods it is not easy to separate the songs. Chiffchaff, Nuthatch and Blackbird are persistent. Chaffinch sings fitfully. A Blue Tit has a nest in the stub of a broken branch and is too busy bringing back food to sing. Through the woods, a glade is viewed covered in Bluebells. A Garden Warbler sings nearby.
Wednesday – Home – After so much cloud and wet weather this is the third day of sunshine. Mid-morning and it is hot. The garden looks wonderful in the bright light. Aquilegias, Delphiniums, Wallflowers, Forget-me-nots (pretty but Kay would rather do without them, very invasive and getting everywhere), the last of the Bluebells and numerous flowers whose names are unknown to me. Hopefully, the risk of frost is now over, so much has been planted out – French beans, runners, sweet corn and tomatoes. Courgettes and leeks have been potted on. These are waiting for the potatoes and broad beans to finish, they are behind schedule because of the cold, wet period last month. Another huge Bumble Bee is trying to escape the summerhouse; they never work it out and need help. Holly Blue butterflies and a Beautiful Demoiselle (Agrion virgo) with tan wings and a blue body flit around the garden. A Blackbird sings loudly from the garden walls. A female House Sparrow slips though the cork screw branches of the Hazel. Kay gave up potting up in sun and has retreated to shady areas to remove some weeds. A Chiffchaff searches the top branches of the Horse Chestnut that towers over the summerhouse, repeating its single note call constantly.
Thursday – Leominster – A grey and overcast start to the day gives way to hot sunshine. The broad beans seem to put on inches overnight and now stand over three feet tall. Pods are beginning to appear. After lunch we see one of the more bizarre spectacles at the top of the road – the Olympic Torch procession passes. Firstly there are police, more police and yet more! One can go for weeks and never see a policeman in town and now there are dozens and dozens. The entire West Mercia motorcycle squad must be here, tootling their klaxons and they are reinforced by motorcycles from the Metropolitan Police presumably all the way from London. The same applies to squad cars as well, numerous from both forces. It is unclear what their role could be, they can provide only so much security. Then comes huge adapted coaches from the sponsoring organisations, blasting out gibberish over loudspeakers at a volume more suited to a stadium rather than a fairly narrow town street. More coaches, more vans, more lorries and more police, then finally, runners in grey surrounding a woman in white, swimmer Sharron Davies rather than the local person we had expected, who is carrying the Olympic Torch. She passes and that is that...
Friday – Bodenham Lakes – The morning mist is soon burned off and a little later high level cloud moves away to leave a blazing sun. Bird song is still full and rich. Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs all contribute. A Whitethroat lurks in a bramble thicket by the boathouse. A Cormorant leaves parallel circles of disturbed water behind it as it scoots over the lake in lift-off. Pale blue Ground Ivy flowers in the grass. The green meadow is spotted yellow and pink by Buttercups and Red Clover. Elder is coming into flower. The water level in the lake is still high. The scrape is still submerged although the tips of the reed bed are now showing. Three Cormorants stand on the pontoon. A few Mallard, Coot and Canada Geese drift around. There are few of the latter here as the lack of noise indicates. A pair of Coot are nest building in front of the hide. The great majority of the Mallard are drakes, presumably those who failed to find a partner. A fourth Cormorant mounts the pontoon; all white-fronted non-breeding birds. White specks of fluff drift everywhere on the stiffening breeze, seeds of willows. A Willow Warbler sings. I try to locate a singing Garden Warbler but it is as elusive as ever and I get nary a glimpse. Many of the apple trees are still in blossom in the orchards. A Blue Tit searches the branches for insects. A woodpecker drums in the distance. Sheep in the orchard lay contented as the day heats up.
Monday – Croft – The sky has clouded over resulting in a much lower temperature than in recent days. Blue Tits chatter and Blackbirds sing. Trees are in full leaf; bright, verdant canopies over meadows and woodland thickly coated by grasses and plants. At the top of the ride down to the Fish Pool Valley it is Cleavers, Stinging Nettles, ferns, Dog Mercury, Dock, Red Campion and Herb Robert which make up this carpet. Further down into the valley tall spikes of Foxglove stand not yet flowering. The pools look dark and foetid, needing a good rainfall to refresh them. Bugle with its whorls of powder-blue lipped flowers grows along the side of the path. Across the bottom of the valley by the old pump house. Pond Skaters ripple the surface of the water and fish make bigger splashes as they snatch the skaters and anything else edible. Up the slope beyond the pond is a plant with tiny white flowers with long stamens – the Sanicle (Sanicula europaea), a species I do not think I have noted before. A Nuthatch scurries up the broken limbs of one of the ancient Oaks in the Beech woods. Chaffinches and Chiffchaffs call. A Great Tit searches the tree tops.
Up to the old quarry where a new information board has been erected. It points out the nodules present in the Silurian limestone formed as calcium minerals crystallise from water circulating through the sediment as it is compacted. At the end of the valley ferns grow thickly interspersed with the lemon and lime heads of Wood Spurge. Up the valley below Bircher Common. I rest on the pole across the path which I share with a Flesh Fly (Sarcophaga Carnaria), a blow-fly with red eyes and a well marked body. Something has upset a pair of Mistle Thrushes which are rasping furiously. A pair of Blackbirds rise from the ground fighting. Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches call all the way to Whiteway Head where Skylarks and Willow Warblers take over. Onto the path across the top of Leinthall Common. A pair of Common Buzzards circle slowly overhead. Another flies swiftly through the woods. A Fallow doe watches us, ears erect. Up onto Croft Ambrey. The sun has been shining for a while now and it has become hot. A Green Woodpecker yaffles on the steep northern slope of the hillfort. A Coal Tit searches the leaves of trees at the western end. Down through the Forestry Commission plantations. Speckled Wood butterflies flit through clearings.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – High cloud results in a glare of sun rather than shining. Chiffchaffs still call incessantly. A stand of pink flowers is unrecognised but later Kay identifies them as Aquilegia, domesticated Columbine. A Blackcap searches the branches of an Alder, pausing for a burst of song. Flowers are appearing on Dog Rose briars. The lake is still and scummy with willow fluff. A few Cormorants stand on the pontoon and in the trees. A Moorhen bobs by. A lone Mallard glides across the water. The most active species is Wood Pigeon. The Coots’ nest seems abandoned and the Mallard climbs onto it to preen its feathers. A Robin ticks against a background of bird song, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch and Blackcap. An enormous Burdock, some four feet across, is growing at the bottom of a paddock.