Spring- blossoms and polygamy.

Spring has crept in under the cover of winter, kicking back the blanket of dark mornings and early dusks. Still, sunshine is a fickle beast; weak, and wan, glancing in and out of our days on the farm.  Yet, the garden is waking . Golden daffodils nod their heads in time to the trill of a blackbird perched on a hawthorn branch. A string  of pearl white snow drops trace along the side of the farmhouse , their delicate flower heads outlining long forgotten borders. Buds and new shoots burst up and out, ready for warmer days.

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Bird life on the patch is changing with the coming of Spring. The starlings have left, after a long winter vacation. Their absence is conspicuous. Peace reigns once more, and I do not miss the noisy, whirring, chattering din above our heads.

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The house sparrows have reappeared after their winter absence, and have set about tidying up last years nest sites. For the second year in a row a pair of sparrows have stolen the house martins nest. Calf hair from the sheds seems to be a popular choice of nesting material, and the females busily flit about gathering beakfulls of it.

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The bird feeders are a constant hive of activity, with blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches and robin being regulars at the ‘buffet’. Four or five blue tits on a feeder in one sitting is common, suggesting our garden provides for up to 20 of this species. A willow warbler has started to appear, shy and flighty, but his visits are infrequent. A pair of collared doves often come to perch side by side on the swing set, preening and cooing at each other. A dunnock, or Hedge sparrow, now comes to sift through the debris at the foot of the feeders. Last year a single pair frequented the garden, this year I have counted four on one occasion. They are busy, unassuming little birds, similar in size to the house sparrow but with a sleaker silhouette. The population expansion on our patch matches the general trend around the uk;  numbers are increasing, but the species remains on the Amber list. Their ‘plain jane’ appearance hides a rather quirky reproductive trait.  Dunnocks practice monogamy and polygamy. Depending on the territory available to them , their ‘mating’ relationships can be polygynous (one male, multiple females),  polyandrous (one female, multiple males) or even polygnandrous (multiples of both sexes). Quite a lot of nest hopping for such an unobtrusive bird.

Day 11-Can you smell fox?

Sorry to disappoint, this blog is not about Vulpes vulpes.It is about flowers.I have mentioned my rudimentary wildflower identification skills before. My scant knowledge isn’t from lack of trying. I have lots of ‘fond’ childhood memories of asking my exasperated Mother for the nth time ‘what is this ?’, whilst holding up some sort of hedgerow plant between my grubby fingers. Despite being told what they were, usually prefaced with ‘how many times have I told you?’ it never seemed to stick. Seeing as I now have my own kids to exasperate me, I figured it was time to try and commit some names to memory.

Off I trundled to the ‘meadow patch’. Within minutes I had a handful of flowers and armed with my new bible , I settled down on the patio to figure out what they were.

Wild Flowers by Colour

The book is a treasure in itself. The illustrations are beautiful, and each drawing is accompanied by a short written description. Add in the fact that the plants are categorised by colour and I can see why Michael Palin dubbed it a book for ‘the curious non expert.’

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My modest collection contained

Pink specimens:

  • Herb Robert. This is possibly my favourite. The flowers are neat, pink and unassuming. The stalk is blushed red. The best bit is the smell, a woody, earthy, musky, unmistakeably foxy tang.
  • Red Campion. Tall stemmed with bilobed pink petals.
  • Shiny Crane’s bill. This looks alot like Herb Robert, but has red tinged leaves and lacks the foxy odour.

Blue specimen:

  • Speedwell. There are lots of types of Speedwell. Lots and lots. They all belong to the Figwort family. I scrutinised the various entries and settled upon mine being the ‘common field Speedwell’.

Yellow specimen

  • Buttercup. Again the book informed me that there are several types of buttercup. These are distinguishable by their petals, stems and fruit. Mine appeared to be most like the ‘Small flowered buttercup’

White specimen

  • Cow parsley. The only one I didn’t need to check. 1 out of 6 isn’t bad, right?!