I couldn’t hear their distinctive cries, but the elegant black and white plumage identified the birds that were wheeling high and dipping low over the grassy fields west of Stonehenge. There must have been about twenty of them, lapwings, peewits as my father called them because of their distinctive cry. It was only when I was older that I learned that birds and flowers could have several names each, and was glad to remember the more local ones that he gave them.
Hungerford Common has turned bright golden since I last saw it. Buttercups cover the grass in all directions and the cows that have been turned out there for the summer amble through the flowers, their hocks brushed with pollen.
Coir plant bunds are still visible in places along the Kennet and Avon. They were placed along parts of the waterway to improve the strength of the bank, often supporting shallow plant shelves. The majority of them are almost hidden now under luxuriant growth, but a few sit exposed in the water where the plants failed to grow. A female mallard duck found that they make a useful spot to rest with a young family.
The white flowers on the hebe in my front garden are almost all bowed down under the weight of the bees visiting them. When I go out of the door there is a permanent low hum from the bush, as if it’s suddenly acquired a voice.
In the distance a blaze of bright poppy red shone among the green fields as we drove down to the West Country. As far as I could make out it actually was a field of poppies, whether grown as a crop or just growing freelance among wheat I couldn’t tell. And there was only that brief tantalising glimpse. When the road passed closer to the field, high hedges hid all that lay beyond them. Not a hint showed of any colour other than green, and the white of flower heads.
The lane edge was a frothing wave of white wild carrot, which has the lovely alternative name Queen Anne’s Lace. Threading his way through it was the regal figure of a male pheasant, resplendent in his bright breeding plumage.
In the Hampshire woodland the undergrowth has grown so high that it almost hides the deer that lurk in it. I’m lucky if I spot the tops of their heads and their pointed ears before one of them bursts out into the open ride ahead of us.
Every morning that I sit in the bay window over an early cup of tea I see the red kite that patrols the air above the houses and garden opposite. The bird first appeared here two years ago, and now seems to have a regular daily routine, and is not alone in colonising a more urban space. I frequently see red kites flying above towns and villages, returning to the landscapes that their mediaeval ancestors occupied. These earlier kites found plenty to scavenge among houses and gardens, I wonder what these modern ones find.
A faint line of chalky footprints across the grass ride betrayed the badger who’d passed here in the night. There was only one line, heading out from the shelter of the woodland into the wheat field and down to the bourne below. If the creature was in search of water he’d have been disappointed because the bourne is a winter one, and has now run dry.
The tiny lambs I last saw at Parke on the edge of Dartmoor have suddenly grown very big. They seem almost as large as their mothers, and now nudge the unfortunate ewes even harder when they want to feed. The mothers look bedraggled, and I suspect that under their straggling fleeces they are much thinner than their plump youngsters.
A swift movement caught my eye. Puzzled by the odd shape of the creature that had flashed past I leaned out of the open window. Still I was puzzled. It looked as though the creature had a rabbit’s ears, but they were flopped down, and it certainly wasn’t moving like a rabbit.
I settled back in my chair, and a few minutes later the puzzle was solved. A stoat ran past over the grassy bank, with the coal black tip to her tail very visible.
I looked out again and saw her disappear into the foot of a hedgerow. Nearby a rabbit lay pressed into a hollow in the ground, literally keeping a low profile.
Soon the stoat came past again, and it was a young rabbit that she had in her mouth, clearly taking it to feed her own babies. She had obviously found a burrow, but I didn’t see her hunting again. I had startled her into stopping when I inadvertently banged against the window. She looked round, considering, before continuing on her way. But she must have either emptied the rabbit nest or decided to go back to it by another route.
It would once have been a familiar sight, this hazel hurdle form that sat in a clearing among Devon woodland. Nearby sat another familiar shape, a charcoal-burner’s kiln. The woodland here still provides fencing and fuel to local people.
The youngsters are out on Dartmoor.
A calf sits beside a watchful mother among a small group of cows that have based themselves in Widecombe. And the ponies are there too, with their foals, cropping the grass of the small village green.
In the woodland the deer aren’t often visible. But I know they’re there, as sharp barks ring out. For they know we’re there too, and a mother is calling her baby, warning her of our presence.
A distinct chomping announced the reappearance of the hedgehog in my back garden as I sat there in the early evening. She was feasting on the mealworms that the birds had overlooked and was quite happy snuffling them up from the lawn around my feet. When they’d gone she meandered off into the flowerbeds. Her progress was marked by the wavering of the plant tops as she wove her way through the stems, as intrepid as any human jungle explorer.
The scent of elderflowers was strong on a midsummer’s evening walk through the water meadows. Mounds of dark red in the long grass showed where the Devon Red Ruby cows and their calves were lying at rest. A line of yellow irises marked the route of an old ditch, part of the network that once controlled the water flow through these meadows.
Slight swirls in the greenness of the main river were the only signs of the strong current that swept its waters along, darkening under the trees and the increasing dusk. A single leaf went with the flow, twisting and turning under the cloud of midges. A fisherman stood silently nearby, casting his line, hoping to catch a fish drawn to the insect bonanza. The swallows that darted low through the haze were more immediately successful.
White flower panicles were thick on the elders that lined the canal bank, and were reflected in the water, making it look as though brides in lacy dresses were standing there to be admired.
The simple pink flowers of wild roses grew in arching sprays over the water, yellow lilies were just lifting their heads over plate-smooth leaf pads, their bright colour reflected in the iris flowers that topped the spear-like leaves.
Walking through the churchyard at dusk we startled a trio of rabbits. They paused on the sandy path, the big daddy, the middling mummy and the baby. Then with a great synchronised leap they had gone, out of sight among the tombstones.
A pair of cormorants flew along the line of the canal, heading purposefully westward. Below a pair of other black birds appeared on the water, tiny fluffy chicks emerging from the shelter of an overhanging sallow. The blurred red mark on their heads made me think that they were moorhen babies, but in fact the parents feeding nearby were coots.
There have been lots of baby birds on a short stretch of the Kennet and Avon canal this year – two lots of cygnets, elegant in their coffee-coloured juvenile plumage, goslings tightly shielded by their Canada goose parents, several ducklings scuttering across the water around their mother.
Spikes of purple foxgloves point upwards to the overhanging clusters of purple rhododendrons that stand in ranked masses near the open expanses of Newtown common. The latter have colonised the border of the common, creeping in from Victorian plantings in the neighbouring gardens.
Butterbur leaves were massed in a long bank on the far side of the Kennet and Avon canal, their reflections almost perfectly mirrored in the brown water. It was a picturesque stretch of the canal, although other scenes were more deliberately planned and planted. There was the line of poplars, also on the far side, their leaves shivering in the breeze, so that we passed by to the sound of their distinctive whispering rustle. And ahead of us a row of willows hung their branches in a canopy over the towpath, offering welcome shade from the sun.
The lakes in Stowe’s garden are definitely picturesque, as befits their eighteenth century origins. There are the strategically placed ornamental features, the cascade, the urn, the monument, to be spotted among the summer greenery. Large parts of the water are covered with flowering water lilies, mainly yellow, but here and there are patches of pink and white.
The birds on the lake add to the beauty of the scene, quite unwittingly. There was the swan with four tiny cygnets, clustering close to Mum, or learning synchronised movement beside her. The line of Canada geese swam into view before the Palladian bridge as if they’d been training for weeks to get this appearance just right.
The scent of elderflowers still lingers in places, but now it’s been generally overtaken by the rich tones of honeysuckle. This drapes itself down shrubs, crowns a sapling, shimmers down from the upper levels of a tree, and grows like a topiary shape across branches spread to hold it.
A blue damselfly with distinctive black bars on its wings drifts along the canal edge, sometimes out over the water, sometimes keeping close to the tall water plants that grow by the bank. It’s a banded demoiselle, very dainty compared to the large blue dragonfly that powers purposefully past higher above the water.
The river runs through the canal here, and the stretch of water is wide between the banks. On the far side a small bird is busy among the overhanging alders. It’s just visible, a flash of lighter colour in the deep green gloom under the branches, and I think, but I can’t quite be sure, that it’s a warbler.
As the bird works its way along the leaves they quiver with the its vigorous progress. It’s presumably gorging on aphids and caterpillars.
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