A long awaited arrival

It seems both a life time and no time at all since I wrote about the beginnings of ‘Project Goat milk’. The dream has finally become a reality this month with the arrival of the goat kids.

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For those of you who like numbers, the average gestation length of a goat is 150 days (might come in handy at a pub quiz, you never know). Counting forward from the date of mating gave us estimated due dates of the 17th and 18th of April for Amy and Bernadette respectively.

Thinking myself extra super organised and well prepared I booked some holiday off work covering these dates. Unfortunately, best laid plans never seem to work out. I should also know by now (2 human babies, assistance at many non human births) that due dates are merely a guide to be acknowledged and subsequently ignored.

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The first kids arrived on the evening of the 13th of April- I think it should have been a Friday. I had just spent several hours in A&E with Farmer F . For once it wasn’t him causing the problem, it was me. To cut a long story short I had had a couple of ‘funny turns’ and then taken her off to the land of A&E. After much poking, prodding and a series of tests that seemed to come straight from the ministry of silly walks handbook, I was discharged with a box of Aspirin and a diagnosis of ‘Query TIA’. Fortunately my ‘turns’ have since been demoted to the level of Migraine with Aura without headache (go figure) , or Temporal lobe epilepsy. I’m still a work in progress- the doctors haven’t quite worked out what to do with me yet.

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Anyway, back to the goats. After several hours in hospital on Thursday, we returned home tired and hungry. F went to check on the goats whilst I got something to eat. He quickly reappeared ‘Er, you might want to go and check the goats’. He might have well pointed at me, messiah-esque, and said ‘Lazurus, rise’ I was out of the kitchen like a rat up a drain pipe.

img_5178Amy had popped. Two gorgeous, gangly kids. One spotty, speckled coated nanny and one buckskin coated billy. These became Priya and Leonard . I was in love. Slightly disappointed at not being at the birth but relieved everything had gone well. Amy had two healthy kids who were up on their feet and feeding. Goat kids are a lot different to lambs- long, gangly legs remind me of foals, yet they are far more sure footed. Floppy oversized ears, the kind of ears you hope they grow into.

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Friday came and went, no more of my ‘episodes’ and no more kids. Saturday I went down to the goats first thing – Bernie didn’t get up to greet me. Here we go, I thought, she’s in labour. I left them be and came back an hour later. Still nothing. Bernadette was up but not acting like her usual self. Normally she is feisty, now she seemed subdued, although putting up a good show of being ‘normal’.  I got F to hold her whilst I checked her over. My suspicions were confirmed, she was almost fully dilated but her pelvic canal (the bit that the kid comes through) was empty. Time for me to retreat again. Another hour or so passed before i came to check on her. I peered through the window, hoping to see some little ones, but Bernie was lying quietly on her own. Time was ticking on- the risk of infection to both Bernie and her babies was increasing as the hours passed, and I was anxious in case the kids were in any difficulty. I gave her an injection of oxytocin to help her labour progress, and sat down in Amy’s pen to observe from a distance. Within minutes Bernie was up on her feet and contracting well. After 30 minutes of this, there was still no kid. Time to take a closer look. A gentle examination and i found the bag of fluid surrounding a kid, and ruptured the membranes. Inside were two big feet and a head and I relaxed a little. The kid was alive, moving and in the right position. Baby goats are born as if they are about to dive into a pool- front legs stretched out, nose and head next, slightly tucked in chin. Of course there are other ways to be born, but this is the easiest, textbook and straightforward.  A bit of gentle persuasion and soon Bernie had birthed her first kid, a very big buckskin boy (now known as Howard) .

img_5275The second kid was presenting awkwardly- his head was bent slightly back so he was almost looking over his shoulders. I helped to position him better and Bernie birthed him quickly. This was Rajesh, another beautifully marked boy. Bernadette started to clean and nuzzle him immediately. My work done, I stayed long enough to shake out a clean bed of straw before letting the little family get to know each other in peace.  img_5220

 

 

To ‘the Point’

“Where are we going Mummy?”  piped up C from the back seat of the car.

“On an adventure, is that Ok?”I ask.

“Yes, that is Ok” she said, nodding

JoJo giggled in agreement.

It is 6pm and far too warm to contemplate starting the bedtime routine. Instead we can fit in one quick outing before the sun sets. Down along the country lanes we go, passing the imposing gateway to Picton Castle, after which the road narrows considerably to almost become a single track lane. The trees arch overhead, forming a canopy of green as we reach our final destination.

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Picton Point is the where the eastern and western Cleddau (pronounced cleth-aye) rivers meet. These rivers are quite special, and stretches of both have been afforded SSI status.  Apparently they are one of the best rivers in the UK for Otters. They also provide sanctuary for various species of Lamprey,  as well as the European Bullhead. Along the length of these two water courses, some 74km in total, exist several Special areas of conservation, with habitat for Marsh Fritillaries and Southern Damselflies.

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We started our exploration from under the boughs of an ancient sessile oak, stooped so low the bottom branch has been propped up.

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There is a waymarked walk along the banks of the Cleddau , left heads back inland , but C chooses to turn right along the path to the rope swing.DSC_0332 (Medium)

 

The tide was out. On the water, two kayakers quietly paddle along the estuary. Other than that our only company is wild.  I can here an oystercatcher in the distance, and jackdaws overhead. Seaweed crackles and pops underfoot as we make our way along the shore.

Gnarly tree roots protrude from the bank and dangle above us, reminding me of when Frodo hides from the Ring Wraiths.

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We trip trap over the boardwalk, a deep muddy tributary to the estuary beneath our feet. On all sides reeds rustle, and dragonflies flutter past their wings whirring mechanically. I think I saw a red darter, I can’t be sure as the light was dim and my camera too slow.

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Finally we reach the swing. I settle JoJo on the floor, where she amuses herself  with the shale. The rope dangles from the branches of an oak, thick and strong.C wanted a go, but at the same time was just a little bit afraid. She soon conquered her fear, she may be small but she is fierce!

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I stood and admired the view, out across the millpond calm water to Landshipping. Boats clinked, bobbing on the incoming tide. A small black bird, probably a Shag, flew low and straight over  the water.

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A gaggle of Canada geese flew past in V formation, honking loudly as they go.

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By now the light was beginning to fade so we retraced our steps, stopping to marvel at the piece of seahorse shaped deadwood.

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Picton point is a real hidden gem in Pembrokeshire’s crown of natural beauty. I find it is somewhere to go when the world becomes a little too fast. Here you can metaphorically press the pause for just an hour or so, and watch the comings and goings of riparian life.

 

 

 

A Swallow’s Tale

The Swallows arrived here late this year, the first one being spotted at the end of May. They came in dribs and drabs, until the air around the farmyard was filled with their noisy chatter. 

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 Every barn has at least two mud and moss cups glued to the beams, perennial nests that lie empty all winter, waiting to be repaired and filled with chicks. There is even a nest directly above the desk in the farm office, and inevitably any papers left underneath soon end up splattered with droppings.

rsz_swallowOn sunny days the birds fly high, swooping and soaring with their distinctive forked tails backlit by the sun. Some alight on the weather vane, keeping lookout and alerting the others to the presence of the farm cat with a loud, indignant ‘Sifflit, Sifflit’ call.

DSC_0102__2___1471592634_36483When it is overcast they skim low over the fields and garden, long streamer tail feathers trailing as they snatch insects on the wing. As dusk draws in they perch along the telephone wires, excitedly twittering and whirring away. They are an everyday presence, as common to us as blue tits and sparrows, their song part of the soundtrack of my summer. It is easy to forget just how amazing they are.

This morning  I headed into one of the barns, in search of tools for a gardening job. A blur of feathers shot out of the door over my head. Startled by my unexpected arrival, the adult swallows had escaped buttwo juveniles were left flitting and fluttering around the barn. I stepped back from the doorway, leaving plenty of space for them to exit but they settled back up on a beam and looked down at me. They won’t be here for much longer, I thought. Soon it will be time for them to leave, and to start their long migration to the Sub Saharan wintering grounds.

DSC_0028__1471592387_25638The adults usually begin the southward journey in mid August, travelling in short bursts towards their destination. Some juveniles may have already set out on their very first trip. Before them lie many obstacles. First they must make it to the south coast of England, before heading across the channel and into France. Then they cross the Pyrenees and enter Spain. Heading ever southward, they cross the straight of Gibraltar and begin their venture over the vast continent of Africa. Most will skirt along the west coast, across the western edge of the Sahara and eventually arrive in South Africa.  Some may head east and travel down the nile. Others may brave the broad expanse of the Sahara itself. Starvation, exhaustion and storms will take their toll. Those who leave late may end up overwintering in Italy, southern France, Spain or North Africa.

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Migration of the Swallow – Map shows ringed bird recoveries (credit http://www.bto.org)

So the swallows that nest here on this little farm in South Wales may travel more than 8,000 miles, all the way to the Cape of Good Hope. A journey which, Google maps reliably informs me, will take 190 hours if I travelled by car. I imagine it would probably take a bit longer, taking into account border checks, passport control, ‘rest stops’ and breakdowns.

 Not only do these remarkable birds do it once, they will make that self same journey in reverse come Spring. This time it may take as little as 5 weeks to return, coming back to the same nest in the same barn that they used last year. It is hard to comprehend that something so small can travel such a long way, safely, under its own steam.

 

 

 

Silence in the garden-Where are all the birds?

 

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Today I am up early and start the day with a prowl around my garden patch. There is a definite chill to the early morning air, and I tug the sleeves of my fleece down to cover my hands. It feels as if Autumn is already on the breeze, shaking off the scent of summer in a flurry of fallen blossom. Now the scorching days of June seem like a very distant memory.

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It isn’t just the temperature that has changed. Through June and July the early morning air was alive with bird song. Now the garden is strangely silent. The swallows are still barrel rolling overhead, clicking and chattering as they go, but other bird life is missing. No chaffinches trilling in the Hawthorn hedge.

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No shy woodpecker clinging to the peanut feeder stealing an early breakfast before the humans appear. No Wrens belting out their unmistakeable song from the farmhouse roof. And most noticeable of all, no cheeky chirpy sparrows. A fortnight ago every barn roof overlooking the farmyard had a family of House Sparrows squabbling on the slates. The ivy covering the gable end of the old bull stall would move as if it were alive, as twenty or so little brown birds hopped about under the cover of the leaves. I had watched as Sparrows evicted a House martins couple from their nest, and duly set about making it their own. Each morning the male of this pair would sit on the gutter above the bird feeder, patiently watching my every move as I replenished the seeds. He didn’t make an appearance this morning .I spotted a single male perched on the corrugated roof of the wood shed, where a fortnight ago there had been 5 or 6 greedy little birds posturing and posing over the plates of sunflower hearts.

Where have they all gone? Probably not very far at all. And the silence in the garden isn’t a bad thing either. In fact, it is just as nature intended it.

August sees the end of the breeding season for many garden bird species. Now bird song is no longer ‘needed’ to attract a mate or hold onto a territory,  the pleasant chirping and warbling I have become accustomed to will inevitably cease.

This month also sees adult birds beginning their moult. Gradually, over the next few weeks, feathers will be shed and replaced. As the feathers drop out the birds become more vulnerable, and choose to hide themselves away until their downy covering grows anew.

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Late Summer also means the crops and wild fruits begin to ripen around the farm. Natures larder is full to bursting, with a  veritable cornucopia of seeds and berries tempting the birds out  from the garden into the fields, away from the ‘boring’ offerings of the bird table.

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Once the harvest is over, and the cool of Autumn truly settles over the farm I suspect my feathered friends will be back. It won’t be long either until the farm’s migrant visitors come to join them. The Starling flocks will arrive in their thousands, covering the  Autumnal skeletons of the bare trees with their glossy little bodies, and a new soundtrack, one of mechanical whirs and clicks will echo around the farm yard, from sun-up till sunset when they will leave, as one, to roost.

 

 

 

 

Under 5’s at the National Museum of Cardiff

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If you happen to find yourself in Wales this summer and are looking for something toddler (and adult friendly) to do on a drizzly grey day, I can highly recommend a trip to the National Museum Cardiff. We went last month, just before the Schools broke up for Summer. It is a bit of a trek from the Farm, and I was slightly apprehensive at the thought of a 2 hour road trip with C and JoJo screaming in unison. Fortunately it turned out to be a super straight route and, despite gatecrashing some Graduation photos on the steps of the Museum (!) , we had a fantastic time.

Here are my top 5 reasons to visit:

1.Hands on exhibits

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I have been to a fair share of stuffy museums and exhibits , with and without small children in tow. I remember getting ‘politely’ asked to leave the Tate as a child when my brother accidentally waved his arm too close to a priceless painting. I hate it when I can feel the guards eyes boring a hole in my back if I lean in towards a cabinet, bearing a ‘Do not touch’ sign .

It gets worse when there are toddler shaped tornados following me. It is seriously no fun for anyone to spend the whole visit listening to me bark orders ‘Don’t touch that! ‘Don’t lick the cabinet!’ ‘Don’t climb on the Reliant Robin (yes, it did happen.)’ No. I am avoiding any museum or gallery that is not interactive, engaging and entrancing until my little ones are safely through the toddler years.

Fortunately the National Museum is very hands on and accepts sticky toddlers. We skipped the  floor which houses the art exhibitions .C was in ‘Whirling Dervish’mode , and when we got out of the lift on the top floor she made a bee line for a bronze statue, arms outstretched in preparation to climb. I managed to spin her back round into the lift, and we went to look at ‘Wriggle: the wonderful world of worms’ exhibit. DSC_1115__1470740494_22576

The centre piece of this amazing family friendly exhibit is the Wrigloo, which is essentially a giant wormery. It offers visitors a chance to experience a worms-eye-view on life, complete with predators watching your every move . JoJo and C thought it was great!

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C enjoyed dressing up as a caterpillar, but wasn’t keen on trying the ‘Scientist’ costume on!

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I managed to do some learning and exploring of my own whilst the girls checked out the worm related book corner.

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My favourite discovery was that the late Lemmy from Motorhead had a ‘late’ worm (a fossil) named after him.How very rock and roll. I have somehow managed to cut the model out of the photo (well done me), so I’ll leave it as a surprise for you to find out what Kalloprion Kilmisteri looks like!

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This exhibition runs until September 2016, so still plenty of time to check it out.

The Clore Discovery Centre, located on the ground floor to the left of the main entrance, is another wonderful family friendly area. I couldn’t get over the fact that we were free to explore the items on display here.

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Skulls, arrowheads, fossils, preserved insects ;things that are normally encased in glass, behind barriers or locked in storage vaults.

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It was really enlightening to be able to  handle them and even use a microscope to get a closer look.

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2.Toddler time

We discovered that this is on (during Term Time) completely by fluke. On every floor, tucked into a quiet corner were little ‘treasure chests’ stuffed full of toys, instruments and books.

Each box was themed to the relevant section of the museum. They seemed really popular, so much so that we had to circle the dinosaur section twice before we could get to the box!

The marine box had a fantastic selection of toys and books which occupied the girls for quite a while.

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We also had fun taking part in the play activities in the Clore Discovery Centre.There were lots of different musical instruments for the kids to try, with some supervision from staff members. C also got to make a jingley jangley set of bells. She chose to put a single bell on. One. Measly. Bell. It was still a lot of fun.

3.Its Free!

Need I say more? Not much in life is free any more, certainly not when it comes to amusing children. I advise using the car park at the rear of the museum.(Currently priced at  £6 for a days parking). There is a direct path round to the entrance and tickets for the carpark are bought in the museum gift shop, so no faffing for change! We got there at 10.30 and left at 4, so that makes it a pound an hour for entertainment!

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Winning at ‘rewilding’- just beside the car park.

There are touring exhibits, which require tickets to be purchased.’Treasures:Adventures in Archaelogy’ is currently based at the museum, but as this is on until the end of October 2016 we opted to save it for another day.

4.Child friendly feasting

The café downstairs has a great set up for the under fives.The food looked and smelled delicious, but being the skin flint I am we had our own packed lunch. I did stretch to a caffeine hit and a piece of cake, mainly so the girls could take advantage of the games and books stationed around the restaurant.Our seating area was right next to a trolley full of things to keep little hands occupied. I think JoJo’s favourite bit in the whole day was playing with an activity cube, the very same make and model as the one we have at home. The museum is also Breastfeeding friendly, with a designated room should you wish to use it.

5. Something for everyone

There is an awful lot packed into this museum. The ‘Evolution of Wales’ gallery was so good, we went round twice. In fact, C watched the audiovisual about our galaxy three times. I think she’d still be there now if she’d taken enough food in with her.

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The natural history galleries are also jam packed with interesting finds. I dare you to stand under the Basking shark and not be amazed at the sheer size of a creature that feeds only on Zooplankton. Mind blowing stuff!

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If nothing else in this blog takes your fancy, go and visit Kevin the crab. For a hermit crab, he’s pretty friendly!

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For more information and an up to date list of ‘what’s on’ take a look at the Museums website. If you do visit, let me know what your favourite bit was and why!

Tangled – A Pembrokeshire hedgerow

Sunny days in a Pembrokeshire summer are as rare as Hen’s teeth. This July seems to have been a particularly grey and soggy one, with the humans on the farm spending a good deal of time huddled indoors. Some days our wildlife spotting has been limited to the content of David Attenborough repeats and watching real life bedraggled blue tits and sodden sparrows fight over the bird feeder in front of the living room window.

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The ‘tangle’ before.

When the sun actually deigns to shine down on us, we tend to make the most of it. This particular afternoon we were just commencing our third walk of the day when my ears picked up a distant distinctive mechanical whine travelling along the road towards us. Living in the countryside, where traffic passes infrequently, you get used to the sounds that different vehicles make. I knew this could only be one thing- a ‘Hedge topper’.  A little black car shot past us, driving far too fast for country lanes, only to have to slam the brakes on as the tractor and hedge trimmer crested the brow of the hill.

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My heart sank. Just minutes before we had marvelled at the number of snails living all along the roadside. There were hundreds of them, wedged into the crooks of the dried cowslip, or balanced precariously on thin grass stalks.

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On first glance, or when whizzing past in a car, the hedgerows appear as a blur of green. Nothing stands out, until you slow down, stop and look. Along our roadside stretch, hawthorn, sycamore and ash trees make up the spine of the hedge. Rambling Bramble weaves itself around these, with various grasses, dog rose, bracken and ferns adding to the chaos. Bees (I counted 3 species in 5 minutes) bumble about the pale pink blossoms, the flowery sentinels of a bountiful Autumn Blackberry harvest.

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At ground level, speedwell and vetch poke out , the occasional Birds foot trefoil too.

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Clumps of Ragwort add more gold to the green.

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As we walked along a sickly sweet perfume wafted down from the peach blushed, cream and golden honeysuckle blossoms that crown the hedge, one of my favourite summer scents.  DSC_1066__1469082839_31887

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Along by the farm garden these ruby red ‘wild’ escapees caught our eye.

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We spotted some Pink Campion that were still in flower . A Myrid bug was perched atop one, waving its antennae as we passed by.

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Grypocoris stysi

All along the roadside  pungent Cow Parsnip was in full bloom, its frothy blooms attracting flies and insects galore.

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On some plants the flower heads were tied together with a tangle of gossamer threads. Peeling these apart revealed a little black headed caterpillar of the Parsnip moth. It emerged from its hide away, flip flopping  its body about in a rather disgruntled fashion.

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Within seconds all of this flora and fauna had been obliterated. Shredded. Chomped and spat back out by the churning, gobbling blades of the trimmer. I rushed out to survey the hedges once the tractor had passed. The cutting had been confined to the tangle of grasses and plants making up the verge, and the actual ‘hedgerow’ itself had been left virtually unscathed. The ‘roadside maintenance’ had caused a bit of devastation, with the snail population taking a definite hit. The caterpillars too had disappeared. I managed to rescue a few of those from the mangled remains of the Cow Parsnip plants along the edges of the tarmac.

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Now the ‘clean up’ of vegetation had finished, the rubbish caught up amongst the plants was much clearer to see. I followed a trail of Crisp packets, coffee cups, beer bottles, take away cartons and coffee cups back towards the farm house. All flung out of passing vehicle windows, discarded without a backward glance. Pretty disgusting.

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Despite my bemoaning the ‘evil’ hedge topper, I can understand the need to keep the verges cut back. When spring and summer vegetation crowds in towards the centre of roads barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, visibility becomes much poorer. I just wish I’d had the chance to collect and transport some of the snails and caterpillars beforehand!

Seashore detritus.

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Crash of wave upon the shore,

Lift shell to ear and hear sea roar

Warm wind gust out from far inland ,

Whipping, whirling, grains of sand.

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Gulls scream loud, wheel and cry,

Soar like Icarus up on high.

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Toe tip I along the tideline alone ,

leave soft footprints amongst the foam,

Pick amongst the wave washed treasure,

Man made and nature born in equal measure,

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 Sea glass shard, pebbles, rocks,

sponge, anemone, seaweed locks,

Plastic, clam, tangled net,

barnacles ,crab carapace soaking wet,

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Lift up cans, straws, fishing line,

Odds and ends, all are mine.

Claim my prizes from the tide,

Amongst the waves no more to ride.

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Inspired by a #2minutebeachclean along Newgale beach, Pembrokeshire.

If you have 2 minutes to spare whilst on your favourite beach, give it a go! The aim is to pick up as much litter as you can find in the space of just 2 minutes (although if you want to keep going for longer, I don’t think anyone will stop you!). Once you’ve gathered your waste recycle or dispose of it appropriately. Et voila, you have done your bit to help keep our seas and oceans rubbish free! Head to the official beach clean website for tips on what to do and how to stay safe whilst doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Aberystwyth

Tuesdays are usually our day for spontaneous trips and succumbing to wanderlust. Midweek exploration benefits from quiet roads, beaches free from humans and empty attractions. Heaven!

I had stumbled across Bwlch Nant Yr Ariant the night before, whilst faffing about on the internet. I scrolled through the sites attractions and discovered they had Red kite feeding. That was me sold.

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Aberystwyth is a 2 hour drive away, and allowing for traffic and breaks I figured it would be best to start out early. I was flying solo today so bundled the kids into the car along with a picnic, snacks and birding gear and set off shortly after 8.30am.

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We headed north, cutting across the misty Preseli mountains. As we crested the summit we spotted a herd of wild Welsh mountain ponies grazing close to the road. We drove on, vowels disappearing from the village names (Eglywsyrw…need I say more!) the further North we got. Eventually we made it to our destination, four and a half hours before Kite feeding time! Plenty of time to explore!

We started off in the visitors centre. First stop-the loo.

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By the time we had ‘freshened up’ the café had opened and the smell of breakfast was wafting out from the kitchen. I hadn’t planned on buying anything but C decided otherwise. Whilst my back was turned she had helped herself to a milkshake carton from the fridge, unwrapped the straw  and was settling down at a table to drink it.To be honest, it didn’t take much to twist my arm into buying a coffee and sausage sandwich. The girls enjoyed sitting up at their very own pint sized picnic bench whilst I lounged back and enjoyed the view.

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Over breakfast we were treated to an avian floor show.Siskin, redpoll,sparrow, blue tits and chaffinch flitted back and forth from the evergreens to a massive feeder hanging from a climbing rope.

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Once my mug was drained and sandwiches scoffed we headed to the  adventure playgrounds. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a climbing frame with such an amazing view.

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The girls would quite happily have stayed on the basket swings all day, but I thought we should attempt to have at least a short walk. The most accessible route is the circular Barcud Trail, which leads along the shore of the lake and round to the Bird hide. It is perfect for little legs and buggies, and their are plenty of strategically placed benches along the way.DRAG.jpg

To keep little minds engaged you can take part in the animal trail, and try to spot the wooden animals that are dotted about. Unfortunately some are really quite well hidden, and it wasn’t until I spotted the dragonfly (number 10) that I realised we were going backwards along the route!DSC_0564__1468007935_52989

The wind was whipping over the lake, rippling the surface and sending tiny, choppy waves in to shore. A crested grebe propelled itself solemnly across the water, heading for a patch of reeds on the far side.

DSC_0629__1468008397_10609We followed the gravel path along the shoreline, gently sloping down to enter a stand of conifers.The scent of evergreen resin and pine needles hung heavily in the warm air. Further on it meanders through birch, rowan and oak trees. We traced our steps back along to the hide.We claimed our spot right in line with the feeding area, set out our picnic and played with the bird call ‘machine’.Lunch was eaten in the company of ‘a prince'(according to C, they were due to be married.Such an imagination!)

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Around 2pm the slate grey sky began to fill with kites,their whistles and shrieks bouncing around the valley as they lazily rode the thermals.  By 2.30pm I estimated there were about 100 birds waiting patiently for their meal.

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The 3pm feeding frenzy was spectacular. Birds practically dropped from sky, plummeting down to the patch of green grass to snatch up scraps of meat before shooting out over lake. Some flew low over the water, dragging their talons behind them over the surface Others hassled a gull that had floated a bit too close to the feeding station.

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Once the majority of the meat had been snapped up, the crowds of people dispersed quickly. We wandered back to the playground which was almost level with the Kites that had remained.A young boy  stood beside us and watched, open mouthed as a juvenile kite soared overhead. He stretched his arms up towards the bird as it disappeared over the crest of the hill. ‘Woah, did you see that?’ he exclaimed to nobody in particular.

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By now the girls had had enough. We managed to pick up a handmade Red kite badge as a souvenir (family tradition, its getting quite tricky to find real badges!) from the shop, and started out on the journey home. Soon both children were asleep. I spent the remainder of my trip with Mr Packham, narrating his amazing ‘Fingers in the Sparkle Jar’. Bliss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welsh botanical gardens

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Ok…in the interests of ‘transparency’ and ‘honesty’, this post comes with a disclaimer. Day 14 actually happened on Day 1 of 30 Days Wild (collective sharp intake of breath from readership). I know, I know, that’s cheating. But I have a gap in my posts. I don’t like gaps. I also really want to share my bioluminescence story. Therefore day 14, written on day 30, experienced on day 1, is about Fungi. And I suppose it’s not really cheating. I can put a spin on it…yes, Day 14: Reminiscing on a wild day out.

The National Botanical Gardens of Wales is a real gardeners delight. And for a cactus killing, not-green-fingered person like me it is still a treat.  It is fantastic for families (the new adventure playground has a trampoline!!!)  and those in need of easy access as most of the paths are flat.

The massive dome glasshouse (reminds me of the Eden project) at the top of the garden houses an impressive collection of Mediterranean plants. It is also home to the a touring exhibition (from Edinburgh) about Fungi.

Fungi are neither plants, nor animals. They belong to a whole separate kingdom, hence the title of the exhibit. Like plants they are stationary and have cell walls, but like animals they get energy from digesting matter.

 

The exhibition space is dark and had an earthy, damp soil smell to it. We were immediately confronted by a towering Toadstool. I felt as if we had become Alice and’gone down the rabbit hole’ to Wonderland.

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Behind the Toadstools something was giving off a faint green glow. We went in for a closer look and found tanks full of these bioluminescent fungi.

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This process occurs due to a chemical reaction (the oxidisation of Luciferin) creating energy which is converted to and emitted as light without causing any heat to be produced. It is a common phenomenon amongst marine life, but on land is restricted to Fungi and invertebrates.The resultant eerie glow may function to attract prey or warn off predators. Neat!DSC_0307

 

 

 

 

I love interactive exhibits. I can’t stand stuffy cases full of dusty objects that are virtually impossible to identify due to poor labelling or tiny writing. Boring. Fortunately this exhibit was all about putting the FUN into Fungi (yes, I really did just write that.). I enjoyed fiddling about with the light up ‘Russian roulette’ good and bad fungi exhibit, very helpful for anyone wishing to rustle up a mushroom based snack.

 

If you are thinking of doing a bit of ‘foraging’ make sure you follow this advice

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The exhibition space was not very big but the exhibitors have managed to cram in a lot of stuff. Quantity with no loss of quality, I hasten to add.Around the corner from this was a light box and stack of ‘x rays’ and CT scan images to explore. They had been taken from patients suffering from Aspergillosis, a respiratory disease caused by mould spores. The disease also affects other species, including dogs, chickens and parrots. Once I’d managed to figure out which way up the radiographs were supposed to hang (i’m a vet,not a medic…thankfully) it was interesting to see how the fungal spores affected humans.

 

I was being dragged about by my whirling dervish toddler (fortunately JoJo was having a snooze) so I didn’t manage to see everything. Some times I just grabbed a quick photo before moving on. I’m glad I did.

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I have walked past the sign for this exhibit on several previous visits,  always thinking that one day I will make it across the threshold to explore its offerings. I’m glad that participating in  30 Days Wild made me finally go in!

Day 25- Mapping it out.

I have wanted to map out the fields for a while now.  I have only lived here for 3 years and have not yet become acquainted with the farm’s nooks and crannies. Today’s  Random Act of Wildness offered me the perfect chance to do just that. Not exactly OS standard of map drawing, and it is most definitely NOT to scale, but hey ho…it’ll do!

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F is always saying ‘I’m going to move the fence in such and such field’ and I nod along as if I know exactly where he is headed. In reality I only ever remember about 3 of the fields by name.

 

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The Cow Park is a great expanse (in my mind anyway) of relatively flat ground, which proves how plant life can still coexist with modern farming methods. On a quiet evening walk around the perimeter I have encountered Docks, nettles, bramble, clover, gorse, Chickweed, thistle, buttercup,Blackthorn, Hawthorn, ash, sycamore, Red Campion, Dandelion, vetch, speedwell…the list goes on.

The farmyard itself provides homes for many wild beast and fowl. We live on a farm….rodents are everywhere! Brown rat , field and house mice are often spotted dashing from hiding spot to hiding spot, trying not to be seen. Bats roost in the 200 year old barns and whizz around the yard at dusk, snapping up insects that multiply in the manure pile.  Pheasants stalk in the grass behind the heifer shed. A flock of wild pigeons settle down noisily each night on the roof of the cow shed. Occasionally a Sparrowhawk takes a pigeon , which is amusing to watch as they are much bigger than him!

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Summertime sees the Swallows return, the air filling with their clicking and whirring calls. Starlings arrive in late October, gorging themselves on the barley used to feed the cows. Buzzard and red kite are frequently seen soaring overhead, especially over winter months and after hay is cut.  Little owls during the Spring to screech outside the farmhouse in the small hours. We suspect they nest in the old ash trees that occupy the Meadow and Ox Park hedges. Barn owls are also seen later in the summer, hunting along the hedgerows and calling to each other across the fields. Their shrill cry sends a shiver down my spine.

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As I found out by doing the bioblitz that our garden and the sheds around the farmhouse are home to many creatures. We have seen great tits, blue tits, chaffinches, robin and sparrows on the feeders. Dunnock and wren fight over the spillage from the bird table. Collared doves are currently nesting in the hedge behind the immature oak.Thanks to our first attempt with the camera trap we know that there is a family of magpie, with two fledglings, here too.

 

Jackdaw are everywhere on the farm at the moment, the nest in the feathering loft has fledged at long last.

The log pile is our mini beast ‘Hilton hotel’. The meadow patch is wilder than ever at the moment, thanks to the recent wet and humid weather.

Business at the bee café is swift, and the ‘menu’ has expanded since the Scabious has finally flowered. Over the past month I have also become aware of (and showered curses upon) the large slug and snail populations residing in the garden.

Thanks to the 30 Days Wild project, I have finally had a chance to take stock of what coexists with us on the farm. It has also made me realise I know the farmland a lot less intimately than I would like to! Hopefully this will be the start of getting well acquainted with the rhythms of the wildlife that live on our patch of Wales.

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