Sunday – Humber – May begins with cold, frosty mornings. The first round of the annual BTO Breeding Bird Survey around Humber. There is lingering cloud in the east, moving away to reveal a deep orange sun above the horizon. Along the lanes, counting good numbers of Blackbirds and Linnets, often in pairs. Several Yellowhammers and a Skylark overhead, passing Wood Pigeons but no Blue or Great Tits. A Common Buzzard is on a post near the dog kennels. Down the lane beside the woodland burial ground and across Humber Brook. Female Blackcaps “tap” in the woods. A few Jackdaws are around the church. Through to the fields. The first field has been sown with oilseed rape, all across the public footpath. However, there are tractor tracks to follow. I do not enter the big field, but do count 28 Carrion Crows. Back to the village. A Tawny Owl is staring at me from the step on a telegraph pole. It is glorious in browns and oranges in the bright morning sun, huge black eyes staring at me. It departs with calls of “Tuit tuit”. Back along the main lane – the Roman road. A large continental articulated lorry is trying to find Great House Farm. It is down towards Stoke Prior village but I am unsure which one is the right farm. (I realise later that if the lorry heads down the school lane into the village, he will have a terrible problem with the junction into the village. But he was facing the wrong way, so may go round – hopefully.) Just before the end of the survey, a Whitethroat scratches out a bit of song from the hedgerow.
Home – Various sowings have not fared well, so I sow more beetroot, leeks and broad beans. The second sowing of peas have come to nothing. At least the tomatoes in the greenhouse seem to have survived the cold nights.
Tuesday – Home – Yesterday was gales and rain, today just the wind remains gusting through the trees with just a few brief showers. Enough rain fell yesterday to refill the water butts, which is pleasing. The morning does not start well – the chicken run door blew open, despite my being sure I had bolted it. The hens are being very awkward about returning and it takes quite a while to round them all up.
Purple sprouting broccoli seedlings are planted out. They had to be purchased from a nursery as my home sown ones failed. The lettuces being grown under cover are doing well. The first asparagus are showing and there are signs of potato shoots appearing. Lots of blossom has now garlanded the Christmas Pippin apple.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Grey clouds, tops lit up a shining white by an obscured sun, cover much is the sky. The morning has warmed after a clear night which resulted in a light frost. House Sparrows chatter, Wood Pigeons coo, a Chiffchaff calls, a Wren and Blackbird sing and Canada Geese gabble in the distance. On down the track. A Robin watches my passing from a small Willow. The disembodied song of a Garden Warbler comes from a thicket of Dog Rose and Brambles rising up dead tree trunks. A Jay crosses the track.
Out on the lake are a couple of pairs of Mallard, a small group of Greylags with goslings on the far side, then a duck Mallard glides into view with seven ducklings and a Canada Goose climbs onto one of the islands also with a brood of goslings. A Pied Wagtail undulates past. There is just a single Tufted Duck. Along to the meadow. The air is full of small insects. A couple of dozen House Martins are over the meadow. Several Blackcaps and another Garden Warbler are singing around the perimeter. It starts to rain. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. A couple of Ring-necked Pheasants stalk the Jacob sheep pasture.
From the hide, more Tufted Ducks, Mallard and Canada Geese can be seen. A Mute Swan is at the western end. Nine Cormorants are on the small island. They suddenly lift off and scatter across the water. A Grey Heron emerges from the reed bed. A pair of Little Egrets fly in. More than thirty Tufted Ducks are around the lake. A Ring-necked Pheasant on the bank croaks and shakes his feathers. A Coot is by the reed bed.
Back along the meadow. Molehills have been flattened and are covered in rabbit droppings. Many more trees in the orchards have come into blossom.
Home – Shortly after reaching home, a heavy downpour of hail bounces off the ground. There are further short, sharp showers, often of hail, during the afternoon along with breaks of bright sunshine.
Friday – Home – Another bout of ankle pain keeps me grounded today. After a milder night than of late, the day steadily warms with frequent sunshine despite the steady flow of vast cumulus clouds drifting eastwards. Something, Wood Pigeons I suspect, have been at the purple sprouting I planted out a few days ago despite the netting draped over them. The netting is raised and hopefully this will prevent any more damage. The lettuces under the covers in the bed are progressing well but little has happened to the seeds sown. Potatoes are showing more and more.
In the afternoon, the first Swift of the year is very high in the sky, moving northwards.
Sunday – Leominster – After rain throughout yesterday, the sky this morning is still grey but the clouds are thin and broken. The sun almost manages to shine through. Wood Pigeons call and a Song Thrush sings from the park. Cherry blossom down the street has finished. Leaves are finally appearing on an Ash tree. Over the railway and onto Butts Bridge. The water level in the River Lugg has risen thanks to the rain, the shingle banks are all submerged again. Robin, Chiffchaff and Blackbird are all in song. A Song Thrush and Wren join them. A Sedge Warbler is singing its scratchy song somewhere around the eastern side of the bridge but hearing it, never mind locating it, over the almost constant roar of the traffic on the bypass is difficult. It is finally found in the middle of the large piles of branches pruned from the roadside hedges that have been left on Easters Meadow.
All the apple trees in the Millennium orchard are in blossom now. The Wild Garlic are in flower but the leaves are fading and the patch is disappearing under Stinging Nettles. It starts to rain. A ticking female Blackcap is in a quandary as humans approach from each direction. She finally heads off towards the railway. The bells toll the hour followed by the Compline bells. The water level in the River Kenwater is also higher than in recent weeks. The rain ceases and the hazy sun re-emerges.
Into the churchyard. Two Grey Squirrels chase across the graves and a Rabbit bounces off into the bushes. Through to Corn Square and back into the car park. Irish Travellers have encamped there which will cause ructions tomorrow. There was a lengthy consultation on providing a site for temporary travellers. I felt it was inadequate and too far from the town. Several lengthy reports followed and now, at least a year later, absolutely nothing has happened. Thus the travellers are in the car park.
Monday – Lugg Meadows – I start from The Cock of Tupsley, a modern pub in the east side of Tupsley, an eastern suburb of Hereford. A sharp shower passes then the sun emerges. Across the Ledbury road into an older lane, the original route of the road. Green Alkanet flowers with an intense blue on the bank with Garlic Mustard, Herb Robert and Cleavers. A Chiffchaff calls overhead. Lower House Farm, built in 1614 and known as “Nobletts” until 1885. It was, until recently, the offices of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. A gate leads onto Lugg Meadows.
The meadows are traditional “Lammas Meadows” divided into strips and parcels of lane marked by “Dole” stones, many of which are still in the ground. The meadows were closed to livestock between from Candlemas (2nd February) to Lammas (1st August) to allow the grass to be grown for hay. The owners of each patch would gather in their hay crop, then the meadows would be open for all to graze their livestock. Winter flooding kept the soil rich and fertile.
Along a path on the western side of the meadow. A Great Tit searches a newly leaved shrub. It flies off to be replaced by a singing Dunnock. A Song Thrush sings nearby. The meadow is spotted with Field Buttercups and Dandelion clocks. The path runs alongside a small brook, Lugg Rhea, which has split from the main river further north and rejoins it again near the road. A steep bank, Baynton Wood, rises towards the Tupsley estate, covered in trees. Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Blackbird sing. A Carrion Crow is on a nest in the fork of a young tree. Nearby a Little Egret sits hunched in a tall Ash.
A gate takes the path briefly into the woodland. Patches of flowering Wild Garlic grow on the edges of the paths. Back out onto the meadow, although there are more trees here. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. Oak trees are bursting into leaf. It would appear that the Oak and the Ash are coming into leaf simultaneously. A detour up the hillside to a lane in which stands a fine Victorian Gothic house.
Back down the path. A pair of Goldfinches fly up into the trees. The Little Egret is flying around the meadow below. A footbridge crosses the brook and the path runs out onto the wide expanse of grassland. Black St Mark’s Flies hang in the air, legs dangling. Across the meadows, grasses and Field Buttercups ripple in the breeze. The path continues northwards on the eastern side of Lugg Rhea to the main road. The rain returns with a vengeance. The path runs east for a while then heads back down the meadows. The pale violet flowers of Cuckoo Flower, also known Lady’s Smock, Milkmaids or Mayflower, grow among the Field Buttercups. The rain stops and the sun shines again. Typical April showers, pity it is May.
The path is now beside the River Lugg. A Common Buzzard flies over. House and Sand Martins sweep across the wet grass. A Reed Bunting sings in a clump of bushes growing in the river. A Swallow flies upstream. A short burst of song comes from a Reed Warbler but it then falls silent. Across the meadows, more large late Georgian or early Victorian houses stand on the hillside, Aylestone Hill, with considerable modern infilling. The path follows a large meander of the river. White Comfrey flowers and Butterbur leaves grow on the bank. A heavy and prolonged shower makes my decision not to bring wet weather gear seem rather foolish. A Goosander flies away from the river.
On down the meadows alongside the river. Regular Blackcap territories are marked by song. A Whitethroat displays over the edge of the river bank. A path crosses the meadow back to the brook. The rain has stopped and the sun shines again but I am soaked. A footbridge crosses Lugg Rhea and a path leads back to Lower House Farm. Twittering Linnets fly across the field. Back up the old lane to the Ledbury Road and The Cock of Tupsley. Route
Tuesday – Home – The pattern of showers and sunshine continues. The small patch in front of the cold frame is weeded – couch grass is advancing across it rapidly. It seems no matter how much of the underground tendrils are removed, it will still return. Four holes are dug and some manure put in then they are backfilled. Four courgette plants are planted above the holes and a fifth goes to the back of the patch. Plastic cloches placed over the seedlings. Three of the cloches are shop bought for the purpose, the other two are large plastic mango chutney jars. Indoors, some squash seeds are planted in a small tub.
In the afternoon, a short thunderstorm passes with a heavy downpour of hail.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – After a bright, sunny start to the day, cloud starts to thicken. A column of Swifts and silhouetted Martins rise high above the track. Blackcap, Wren, Chiffchaff and Robin are in song. An Oystercatcher is on the island with a couple of Mallard and Coot. A Common Buzzard soars high above the meadow. The Swifts are now over the meadow, screaming as they twist and turn after insects. A Cuckoo calls south of the lake.
Pair of Great Crested Grebes glide together across the water. A flock of Canada Geese are grazing on southern bank. Few Tufted Duck are around the lake. Mute Swans at western end. A scattering of Swifts are overhead. A pair of Greylags stands on an island. A couple of Cormorants are fishing. A cacophony of Canada Geese comes from the island but there is no indication as to what set them off. A Coot becomes upset by the presence of a Mallard near the scrape and chases him off. A pair of noisy Greylags fly onto the water close to the scrape. A Great Crested Grebe approaches the scrape and swims about with its head underwater. It makes little grunting noises as it moves away. A duck Mallard appears with three ducklings.
Back through the Alder plantation. Ring-necked Pheasants are in the paddocks rising up to the road. Into the meadow where Hawthorn is coming into blossom. A Garden Warbler is singing in the hedgerow of Field Maples and Hawthorns. Despite much searching I only get a couple of brief glimpses. The air is full of small insects, some sort of midge. A Jay flies across and over the lakeside trees. Through the orchards where many trees are now pink with blossom.
Friday – Home – Another night of rain. The female Blackbird is back collecting sisal from the hanging basket by the back door. I suppose this means the nest for which she was collecting before has been compromised somehow. The presence of a pair of Magpies in the garden may be a reason, although the weather may also be a contributory factor. The Magpies squabble with a Jackdaw. A Wren stands on the garden wall, tail cocked like a pistol hammer, singing loudly. He moves up the wall, stops and lets rip again, before flying onto the summerhouse roof. A Magpie flies onto the end of the roof and the Wren makes a swift exit. A little later a Grey Squirrel enters the garden via the Willow tree and onto the Ash tree. It has also upset the Magpie which chases it down the tree but the squirrel appears to pay no attention.
Blackstone-Kidderminster – From Blackstone car park across the Stourport to Kidderminster road. A former Toll House stands beside a bridleway which runs eastwards. A Grey Heron flies over. The track comes to the Devil’s Spittleful and Blackstone Farm Nature Reserve. The latter is recently acquired land which will be allowed to return to heathland. The track becomes increasingly sunken into the landscape. The banks are dominated by white – umbellifers, Greater Stitchwort and White Dead-nettle. Then some colour, Common Fumitory, Common Vetch and Forget-me-nots. Under a railway bridge, the disused line to Stourport of the GWR Severn Valley Branch, opened in 1862, closed a century later.
Beyond the bridge the path divides. Off along the left-hand fork. A meadow is covered in Dandelion clocks. Beyond is an embankment carrying the Severn Valley Railway on the GWR Severn Valley Branch Loop. On the other side of the track is a field bring disc-harrowed. This has attracted a flock of young Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Carrion Crows and Jackdaws (no Rooks though). A diesel locomotive, Class 40, 40106, built at the Robert Stephenson and Hawthorn factory in Darlington, rumbles along the line pulling half a dozen coaches. Several trainspotters are set up with cameras. A Yellowhammer is calling across the fields.
Under the railway and onto Devil’s Spittleful Nature Reserve. It is though the site gets its name from a central sandstone outcrop called originally, Devil’s Spadeful. The legend relates how the devil, being vexed the piety of the people of Bewdley determined to destroy the town by blocking up for channel of the Severn and so causing its waters to overflow and drown the good inhabitants. He took up a spadeful of soil and started on his errand of destruction. On his way he met a drunken old cobbler with a great bundle of worn out shoes on his back. “How far is it to Bewdley?” was the question. “I have worn out all the shoes coming thence” was the reply. So the devil dropped the spadeful and there it reminds to the present day. The same story related to Robin Hood’s Butts in Herefordshire.
Between 1941 and 1945 the eastern most part of the reserve became the site of Burlish camp, a tented camp for the 297th US army hospital. The heath is thought to have been cleared around 2500 years ago. Blackbird, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Robin sing. Another train drawn by a diesel rumbles past towards Kidderminster. The engine is Brush Type 4 (later Class 47) class of British Railway diesel locomotives developed in the 1960s by Brush Traction. A total of 512 Class 47s were built at Crewe Works and at Brush’s Falcon Works in Loughborough between 1962 and 1968. The sandstone outcrop rises a short distance to the south east. It is topped by Scots Pines and a large cave is visible on its flanks. The rock is Bridgnorth Sandstone Formation, Sedimentary Bedrock formed approximately 272 to 299 million years ago in the Permian Period. On along the track. A Jay is staring at something on the ground. The Class 40 returns watched by a row of trainspotters beside the line.
A track runs northwards past the Rifle Range Reserve, where there was once a race course, and then alongside Whitehill Wood to the east and the fences of the Safari Park to the west. The track passes through woodland, most trees being less than 100 years old. On the other side of the fence is the entrance to the Safari Park, with several lines of cars all waiting to enter. Various bellowings and grunts come from behind the fences. Rhydd Lodge is now part of the Safari Park. A footpath heads into Rhydd Covert. The wood was given to the Scouts in memory of Major and Mrs Harcourt-Webb and their son, 2nd Lt R Webb, of the Queen’s Bays Regiment, killed in action in 1940. A small memorial stands in the Chapel Field.
Through the trees are misty blue patches of Bluebells. Greater Celandine flowers by a fence. The path passes the end of an estate of high end housing. On down into a valley. The bottom of the valley is the east side of Rifle Range Reserve. A Song Thrush is in full flow atop a flowering apple tree. A Jay slips silently away. A footpath leads into woodland. A pair of Magpies are noisy high in the canopy. The path climbs to a concrete track that leads through Gorse Covert into Rifle Range estate. Three Dunnocks chase through the bushes.
The Rifle Range estate is former council housing with newer infill. A Rifle Range Road leads to Sutton Park Road that divides this estate from Sutton Farm, another estate. The housing here is inter-wars. A hill slopes down to the north side of the road with Sutton Farm in a bowl. The Methodist church, built in 1962, lays down the hill a slight way. A number of Victorian houses stand with newer build in between. The road meets the Bridgnorth road. A row of Victorian houses with dormer windows are surrounded by modern houses. The parish church of the Holy Innocents stands on the junction. It is a brick built church on the site of a wooden mission church, consecrated in 1938.
Along the busy main road. The houses are a mixture of late Victorian and Edwardian villas and terraces. To the west, beside the railway line, stood the Isolation Hospital which opened around 1884 and closed in 1948. Little remains of it now. Over the railway and past a building site where an extensive development is under construction. Into a cul-de-sac of mid 20th century semis and along a path into the Birchen Coppice estate. Walter Nash Road East forms a large crescent. St Peters Community Church lays across a large green. The church was constructed in the 1950s at the same as the estate. On the other side of the green is the pub. The shops consist of a convenience store and post office and two takeaways. The former police station/house is a residence.
Off the main road and onto Burlish Top Nature Reserve. A wide open space is dotted with yellow flowered Broom. Phone masts rise from a copse. A Cuckoo calls. Over Burlish Top, passing the masts. The track joins the Geopark Way. Dropping Wells Farm lays in the valley below. Across the valley is the winding queue of cars crawling around the Safari Park. The path passes twisted trees, Oaks and Beeches, not very old but often multi-stemmed. Great Tits fly between them. The path, which is still tarmacked descends. Pretty blue, green and white patches consist of Bluebells, Garlic Mustard and Greater Stitchwort. The path arrives at the bridge which carried the Stourport line and back down the lane to Blackstone. Route
Sunday – Leominster – The wet weather continues. The rain has ceased but will be temporary. The sun breaks through the voluminous grey rain clouds. A Chiffchaff calls from the great London Plane opposite the Chequers. Over the railway. A Song Thrush and Wren can be heard singing loudly. Onto Butts Bridge. The water level in the River Lugg has not risen substantially despite all the recent rain, but the water is now a pale chocolate colour. A Blackcap sings in the Hawthorn by the bridge. Stinging Nettles and Cleavers are growing strongly, swamping the Ground Ivy. Only White Dead-nettle seems to be holding its own. A Grey Squirrel bounces across Easters Meadow. The sky is darkening.
Back round past the White Lion. A few Swifts soar high overhead. Into the orchard. A Sedge Warbler is singing in the trackside bushes. It will be interesting to see how the cider apple crop fares this year. The Herefordshire Redstreak, Dymock Red and Bloxwood Foxwhelp seem to have very little blossom, but Tom Putt, Lady’s Finger, Genet Moyle, Michelin and Dabinett all look good. Red Campion flowers under the white Paper Birches in the Peace Garden. By the River Kenwater, a Bird Cherry had numerous white spikes of flowers. The water level in the river is also pretty much the same as last week.
Through the churchyard. Yet another Blackcap is in song, accompanied by the ever present Wood Pigeons.
Monday – Leominster – The sun is bright despite the numerous cumulonimbus clouds. As another stage of the lockdown is eased, the streets become busier. Over the railway. House Sparrows chatter and a Chiffchaff calls. Nearer the river, a Wren bursts into song.