Even though this April seems to be going on the record for Spain’s coldest since 1974 , here in the south of Spain we have had glimpses of Spring. The variability and size of Spain means that there can be variation in the weather but this year the news is showing snow today in Cantabria and people sunbathing on the Mediterranean coast!
At Navasola we are lucky to have had so much rainfall after the drought that lasted throughout the summer and into the winter. Spring has brought much needed rain. One Spanish programme seemed to be suggesting that the reservoirs were now back to capacity. And there’s still some more rain due! These photos are from early April and at a friend’s finca on the warmer south facing side of the valley. Signs of butterflies, bees and blossom are always welcome.
The Easter celebrations went smoothly in the town of Aracena and it is amazing the dedication and work that goes into the Holy Week processions. The story of the Passion is brought onto the streets and is both a religious and cultural occasion.
A week of changes. Changing places and changing weather.
Just before leaving Navasola I wandered into my huerta or vegetable garden. I wanted to check on the plants. I am hoping that I have created enough paths and cut back grasses and vetch to keep it all more under control. Last year when I returned in May I posted about my ‘Wild Welcome Back’. I was overwhelmed with neck high grass,vetch and then hay fever.
Maybe this time I had a wild farewell.
There were rustling sounds from within the abandoned olive grove. I stood very still and listened. I thought it might have been some noisy blackbirds. It often is! To my surprise a large female boar made her way into the field. Although there was a ‘boar proof fence’ between us to protect the huerta, I didn’t want to see it tested. I stood very still. Females are said to have a reputation. Following her were three slightly smaller wild boar. Then one by one, a group of stripy baby boar trotted in. No camera, no phone, just me and the boar family.
I stood still and watched them move around grazing and looking like large dogs. The youngsters climbed up over some rocks. I just kept still, not daring to move and too far from the gate.Then the large female saw me. She came forward a little and but decided to turn away and run off, with the young ones following. It was quite a sight. Reading up a bit more I discovered that these groups are matriarchal and called sounders.They consist of the very young and slightly older females.It is far more common that boar will run away but it seems they may move towards you a little as their eyesight is so poor and they are curious. Most injuries to humans from boar are during a hunt and with the males turning to defend themselves if cornered.
After this event we were off to Portugal for my flight. I had a quick check on the house martins I am trying to survey. There are not so many on the frontline this year but these small birds were working hard with the mud to build over netting put up to prevent them. I had been disappointed to see this attempt to deter them in a local street.They certainly wouldn’t have bothered anyone in that location and it now looks quite unsightly. It also might mean the nests are less secure for the young. The birds are undeterred and determined to build in places they must remember. Those whose nests had not been destroyed have had a head start. I think they have got young and these might manage two broods.
In Dorset we had snow and hail, lots of birds and a vole. The bullfinch is a regular visitor at my friend’s bird feeders, along with a nuthatch and some pheasants. After the snow a kestrel came by but the birds had disappeared into the nearby hedgerow.
Back in London I was shown the video of the baby robins nesting in the ivy by the house and at least two are now alive and well, feeding in the garden. My daughter has fallen in love with feeding the birds and they seem to reward her. I was also updated with the slow motion function on the latest phones. Mine is too out of date but it was lovely to see they had captured the garden Robin flying! Sorry no video as I have to update WordPress and pay money to upload a video! Will think on’t!
Now I am in the north of the U.K. and enjoying my other daughter’s young pet bunnies. These bunnies seem to want to blog with me!
To be close to the animal world seems important. My wilder world of Navasola is still without pets and the wild ones choose their moments. Mice in the middle of the night and a mongoose went up through my rock garden one evening. The wild ones like to be invisible and secretive but it is good to know they are out there.Not in the house! Four mice have been ‘humanely’ removed to at least 1 km away!
I am off to stay with a friend in Rhodes so hope to keep up with blogging about the flora and fauna there soon. I may not be on wifi much but hope to catch up with everyone’s blogs again soon too.
When there’s a dog about, an early morning walk is required. I have just spent a week looking after my friend Ruth’s adorable Tibetan terrier Lotti. I think I do miss having a dog but this is a gentle reminder of the responsibilities. It was one of those glorious sunny early mornings. There was so much frost on the ground too. So I set off with dog and camera. At times no one believes how cold it can be here at night in Southern Spain but we are high up at 740m and on the north side of the Sierra Aracena. I have lost some good plants to the frost; an hibiscus, kalanchoe and aloe vera. However, the native plants are the survivors and the viburnum is always half in bud and flower at this time of year.
We walked up to the Era where the grain used to be threshed. It’s also where I have taken photographs of the butterflies in May. It was very frosty. Lotti was eager to walk on but I was busy trying some close ups of frosty plants.
We moved on to reach the gate. The sun was beginning to get a bit higher and warmer.
Trevor has been working on a method to heat the water when the weather finally warms up in Spring and lighting a fire will no longer be necessary. Hopefully then I will also be released from the endless trips to the wood pile and the relentless work with the many branches of wood, fallen or from pruned trees. Over the last week he worked with a friend and plumber on putting a radiator, painted black, on our roof. It needs quite complicated controls and a pump. The two worked together discussing the intricacies of this system and the financial markets. Most people we encounter in the Sierra have interesting histories and ideas! Hopefully the solar radiator will add some heat to the tank. It can reach up to 100 degrees so the system has to prevent boiling.
The sun has been brilliant the last few days and warm during the day. This has been welcome after quite a few cloudy and cold February days. Now with clear skies the stars are also very visible. Saturn is in the east, Sirius bright and just below Orion. Polaris and the Great Bear as always in the North! The flowers and birds will be the subject of the next post. Although still wintry there are signs of Spring. Thanks for reading and hope Spring is soon with you if you abide in the Northern hemisphere of this amazing planet.
There surely is no better time to be in England than Springtime. And the Robert Browning poem resonates with me as there is such beauty in the English countryside and I do sometimes long for the green, vibrant and cool UK spring. But I don’t long for the tensions of countryside politics and various interest groups pitted against each other. I was also frustrated with a General Election Campaign that seemed to constantly avoid the environmental challenges we should be talking about and dealing with.
For various reasons we had spent longer than expected in the UK but this also meant we could travel further afield through the fields and discover some of the delights of Spring and meet up more with friends and family. I was also able to familiarise myself with more of the wild flowers here in the UK at this time of year.
The Yorkshire Wolds might not seem so dramatic as the moorlands of Bronte and Railway children fame but David Hockney captured their beauty on his return to the UK and during his stay in his home town of Bridlington. When I saw his exhibition in London I also had thought of retracing his ways through the Yorkshire wolds and we did this about two years ago. It is an area of Yorkshire I love and lived near for a while. http://www.yocc.co.uk
We managed a trip into the past of Skidby Mill and Beverley and then to see Zara the horse in her grand estate. There’s an old fashioned stable block and then woodland and parkland all around. For early May this was filled with wild garlic which stretched deep into the woods. At Skidby Mill there was an insight into the past and some milling of flour still goes on. The cowslips were out in the field by the mill and I had also learnt how to adjust contrast on the iPad!I had left the camera behind again as had done a lot of traveling by train. http://www.museums.eastriding.gov.uk
Barn Owl Beauty
There are some shots though that can never be captured but can be etched into the memory. As we were returning along one of the high roads across the gentle wolds from Scarborough I saw my first wild barn owl in flight along the hedgerow. As there were gulls galore in Scarborough I was transfixed by the strange shape in the distance. Just all wrong for a gull! As I drove nearer the Barn Owl it was very clear and it was flying along the hedgerow towards us and we passed quite close. It certainly wasn’t bothered by the car or was more intent on prey. I wanted to pull over and stop and glancing in the rear mirror saw the car close behind. When I glanced again the Barn Owl had turned around and was as flying back after the car. In my rear view window I had such a good glimpse of the wide face. Thankfully there was no one in front of me as I did linger a little too long looking backwards until the Barn Owl suddenly swooped down behind the hedge and into the field. Hopefully it had a good meal.
Barn Owl numbers in the UK were in rapid decline but there has been a great effort to reverse this and there have been successes as farmers, landowners, conservationists and many others have invested in ensuring there are nest boxes and suitable habitats. It seems so essential that party politics are set aside and all work together to ensure species survive and our planet maintains its glorious diversity. There have also been surveys and monitoring since 1932 but by the late 1980s numbers were reported to have dropped from between 5 to 9000 down to 1.400. There is now a national survey called Project Barn Owl and over many more nest sites that are monitored. Numbers have recovered but changes in climate and very wet weather can adversely affect the Barn Owl as rain does impair flight and the ability to hunt. 2013/14 and all the flooding was not a good time for them. http://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/
However I carry around with me on my iphone one of the first photos I took with it and edited for the screen. So everyday I have the face of a Barn Owl looking out on me! So I come full circle with my close encounters with the wild. This was taken at a British Wildlife Centre where rescued wildlife from these shores are kept and it does allow us to get up close to the secretive animals who try to live with us on this densely populated island.
When finding myself magically whisked away up the M1 motorway to Bedford we were then happy to stroll along the river and old market town and just relax after some weeks of busyness in London. I was also pleased to find Woburn Abbey nearby which I hadn’t visited since a childhood camping trip with my parents on the trusty steed, my father’s Harley D and side car. My love of the countryside was born from many of these family outings. The highlights were finding ourselves on the garden trail of Woburn Abbey Gardens, the low, the light was overcast and a cold wind and no camera. But I decided to try the iPad. So the following are my attempts on a more tricky and slippery camera in low light conditions. Inspiration to post was thinking about the blog of GardenWalk and GardenTalk and being on the trail of many of her fascinating blogs based in the USA. http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com There are so many wonderful gardens in wet and green old England and of course, Scotland and Wales. So here is a share on this one while in the UK. Woburn was one of the first stately homes to open to the public in the 1960s and the estate and gardens had been designed by one of the first and foremost landscape designers Humphrey Repton in the 1800s. Another high was to see some ‘young’ giant redwoods, very tall and planted in the late 1800s when it became a fashion and they were named after Wellington. Low down I found some of the wild dead nettles ( slightly different from my wild ones in Spain in earlier post) and a tiny cone from the mighty tall tree. This has set me off on some research on Redwoods. In 1999 I visited the Coastal Redwoods near San Francisco when I didn’t know much about John Muir or the different types of redwood. We enjoyed the cathedral of redwoods but I remembering wondering why they weren’t as gigantic girth wise as seen on old pictures! I now realise why. On exploring these trees in the UK a few years ago we found an avenue planted not far from Windsor in memory of Wellington. His name was to be used in the latin and the trees in the UK are sometimes referred to as Wellingtonia but Sequoia has prevailed. There is a fascinating website on Redwoods in the UK. This can help you find some of these great trees but at present none will achieve the width of the mighty ones in the USA. They can live for 1000s of years! The Kew Gardens website also helped me understand the differences between these species, leaves and cones. It is always useful for identification or confusion over names and of course Kew also has one of these giants. The walk through the gardens was fascinating and showed the love of plants and trees collected and planted out in different ways. Influences from China, USA, Japan, blossoms and Tulip trees. The ancient weeping beech grove, hornbeam maze and sculptures. We just managed to see the Camellias still blooming in the conservatory. A special day.
Our wild child Ms Peony Broteri is now settling down for the winter with hopefully tubers deep down by the chestnut tree roots and the seeds hidden away. Have been told the seeds can take two years to birth into another wild and seductive Ms Peony.
For all of my life and bringing up my children I have lived under the main Heathrow flight path as for all those who live in West London near the River Thames and the Great West Road. On my brief return to West London for the course at Kew Gardens I walked around many of the green spaces and streets I have known well. Spring was out with a blossoming vengeance. I took some photos on and early evening walk around Heston.
The first is from Sutton Park which can be seen as a green sausage from planes flying into Heathrow when quite low, only a few minutes to landing. Here this vast green is surrounded by houses and seems to be loved by the Heston Starling community. I saw quite a few in the trees and Starlings like grassy spaces but could adjust to city life if they scavenge more.
The street trees were full of Cherry blossom and the particular street shown was where we first lived. One of the first notices to come through the door was a tree preservation order. visited a friend and cut a small twig to draw on my course! The magnolias were also out and though short lived there are still many in gardens. It made me think how beautiful Heston could be in the Spring but also how stunning it must have been when everyone cared for their gardens and there were no drives. Heston was developed from orchards in the 1920s into a garden suburb for those who could afford to move out of the crowded terrace streets of inner London! Now every bit of open space is under pressure for new housing.
Two places and people close to my heart are of course my daughters and many memories of Barnes Common and walking through with my daughters and dogs. This is a borrowed one!Barnes Common is a historic green space kept as common land for all us commoners but now it is not sheep but dogs, people and varied wildlife that need this open space
And the photo below is the cherry tree in the Brentford and Isleworth Quaker Meeting House garden, a sacred space from the 1700s. And my daughters under the tree on Mother’s day. I am now back at Navasola in Spain and miss some aspects of my London life, but not work! ( Also not sure why I had to copy the images instead of adding them and photos not so sharp) And the last photo, now working again and not having to copy is of a Seville roof garden, from the amazing wooden sculpture of Mushroom design above the Plaza Encarnacion. A place for great views of Seville.