Random Ramblings

Random Ramblings: Personal observations on a wide variety of subjects. Photographs of creatures and things that are taken on seeing the unusual as well as everyday things.

Gracious gift

We are born with the free and private gift of thought. Thoughts give us both freedom and individuality. They separate us from the animals and enable us to have the power to develop and progress mankind. Sometimes thoughts may be stifled or changed by an over zealous teacher, relative or friend who strive to impregnate the heads of others with their own private thoughts. Such people are not satisfied with a head full of their own musings and dreams, they feel the need to smother and take over others. It is important that in order to be free and not to degrade our species, we hold on to our own thoughts and dreams. We should not live our lives by fulfilling others dreams, hopes, thoughts and aspirations. Life is too precious for this and to live life to the full our thoughts must remain our own and should be forever cherished. post extra: day 16 after St Swithin's - it has been very warm in the sunshine but a little cooler this evening. Note: the bees have been busily going into and out of the bamboo of the little insect house, all day - more have joined the little colony. One bee has been busily cementing more bits of chewed shapes of ash tree leaf into one of the bamboo canes whilst another bee has been systematically removing the glued bits of leaf from inside another of the canes. I still have no idea what these bees are trying to do.

Baby squirrel has bathtime licked!

This little grey squirrel decided to take a stroll in my garden - and whilst it was sunny and dry he managed to clean himself from nose to tail. What a quick bathtime! post extra: day 15 after St Swithin's - sunny and dry with a cool breeze.

England, my England

I have always considered myself fortunate to have been born in England. On the whole, the weather is usually moderate. The summers are pleasant and the winters are tolerable. There is an air of freedom within the people that surges from the core of each individual. We have a love of our country that comes from deep within our souls. It is strange to think that this love has grown without any aid. We do not have to swear allegiance to our country. Neither do we indoctrinate our children with daily chants that tie them to the state or flag. There are no pseudo salutations and we do not stand to attention and hold on to our hearts. Our love of our land is stronger than this and yet we never have to remind ourselves of it. post extra: day 13 after St Swithin's - Saturday was warm and sunny, clouding over in the late evening with rainfall starting at 6.50 pm. Day 14 after St Swithin's - Sunday, warm and sunny with a cool breeze. Note: there is now an addition to the bees a third bee has arrived on the scene and spending the nights tucked deep into the bamboo canes of the insect house.

Hedgehog hoovers

Today has been dry and reasonably warm with a welcoming breeze that has been slowly drying the soggy, damp ground. Flowers that are usually the restaurants for most of the flying insects were eerily devoid of customers. One solitary bumble bee dipped in and out of the lavender. Not a single sighting of a ladybird, lacewing, beetle, or hover fly. No grasshoppers, crane flies or frog hoppers. This evening just after dark, a fairly young hedgehog came hunting into the garden and stopped off for a very long drink after nibbling a little cat kibble. Hopefully he'll chomp through a few of the extra large slugs and snails that have grown and multiplied in all of the extensive rainfall we have had. post extra: day 12 after St Swithin's - we have escaped the rain today, it has been sunny, warm and breezy.

Just for fun

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Bang, dash, splash and crash

As a child whilst on holiday, I lay in a deep sleep - only to be awoken by someone banging and bashing at the door of the holiday caravan. It was a dark, moonless night. The pitch blackness added to the terror of the shouts and the bangs at the door. The river had swollen and was getting higher, the rain was falling and there was a fear that the banks would burst before high tide. We were instructed to go as we were, no time to pack, but to make our way to a Public House which stood on high ground. By morning the banks had burst and the water outside the Pub gushed past at high speed, pouring over the car park and down to the caravan park where it began to rise alarmingly. Eventually, high tide came, the rain stopped but we had to wait as the water was waist high. We were lucky as the caravan that we were staying in only had water up to its bottom seams and didn't enter inside. Not everyone was so fortunate - some vans had been washed away. We waited and eventually borrowed some fisherman's waders to get back inside the caravan. What was surprising was the strength and violence of the water. To avoid falling over in it we held on to each other and grabbed at trees and anything sturdy. Eventually we clambered up the steps and back into the caravan where we stayed until the water retrieved to shin height. There have been times over the last few weeks that I have thought about how violent the water was. Animals dead and floating, unrecognisable shapes swirling about and the stench violating the nose. I feel for all of these people who have had their homes taken over by these stagnant and dirty waters. It is still pouring with rain outside - there seems no end to this wetness. post extra: day 11 after St Swithin's - it has poured with rain all through the morning with heavy showers in the early afternoon.

Splish Splosh

There has been much talk today regarding extensive wild life losses. Rodents, such as rabbits will have perished in their burrows. Many badgers will have drown in their flooded sets and although foxes are fairly resilient many will be lost through exhaustion either trying to find safe, dry land or unexpectedly in their dens. Little attention, it seems, has been paid to the insects. It has been noticeable that there are considerably fewer flying insects about. Many of the annual border plants are dying down without producing their yearly yields of seeds. The ants have only once swarmed this month which in itself is unusual and even then very few had sustained flight with most struggling along the sodden ground, even though many still had retained their wings. There have been fewer lacewings and shield bugs lightly clambering their way over the lush green stems and leaves. Sadly, the ladybirds appear to be drowning in the rain as their wings are becoming so wet that their usually bold, bright red coats bedecked with dark, shiny black spots are appearing to take on a dull and darker hue. Butterflies have been virtually none existent for several weeks. Their have been a few mosquitoes noisily whirring their way through open doors and windows. Yesterday, I observed two or three wasps pushing their way past the bumblebees into a few of the lavender flowers. There has not been a sighting of a crane fly for more than a week and this year I've yet to see a dragon fly! post extra: day 10 after St Swithin's - the day has been overcast with heavy showers in the morning and occasional showers in the afternoon. Note: the bees have positioned themselves deep into the bamboo canes this evening - could this be a warning that the weather will be worse tomorrow?

Bee entering small bamboo cane

This is a picture of the bee entering the small bamboo cane next to the leaf covered entrance. The bee turned around and began to clean out this particular bamboo. I have yet to discover why the bees are doing this!

Busy, buzzing, bustling, bees ....

The insect house, as described and pictured in my earlier blog of the 9th July is in full action once more. Today has been a respite from the rain and with the sun and warmth the bees have been active in the bamboo insect house they appear to have made their home. They seem to operate in pairs one being slightly larger then the other. Today, the larger one was carrying small pieces (about a quarter of an inch) of chewed leaf and stuffing it into the end of one of the bamboo sticks that make up the top part of the insect house. The first delivery of leaf that I saw it trying to attach to the hole was in fact two carefully chewed shapes. The first of which tumbled to the ground. The bee continued successfully to attach the second piece. The first piece was left on the soil and not retrieved for use. A little while later, the larger bee squashed itself into the top smallest hollow bamboo cane and somehow managed to turn itself around and began to push out what appeared to be nibbled grains and sandy pieces from the cane. Both bees kept going backwards and forwards in and out of the bamboo. I still have not identified what these bees are.
post extra: day 8 after St Swithin's - there were showers on and off ~ day 9 after St Swithin's - today has been lovely, the weather was warm and sunny (the forecast for the rest of the week is yet more rain).

Curious carrion candidly cracked it

A few short years ago, magpies seemed to be solitary distant shadows that occasionally flew from branch to branch in what appeared to be the tallest of trees. Jays were spied only once every five years and that was by the very fortunate. Rooks kept their distance flocking about the rookeries. Jackdaws squawked parrot like but were spotted only a few times each year. Crows would swoop down in amongst the sparrows to steal the biggest crust thrown out onto the lawn but then only once or twice each week. Suddenly, all of these carrion seem to have 'elbowed' out their distant smaller cousins like sparrows, green finch, chaffinch the robin and the blackbird and now have the reign of the bird tables. Magpies frequent the hedgerows and gardens in small flocks. Admittedly, the flocks are usually only four or five at a time - but this is a change in their behaviour pattern. They fly down and stretch their legs across the lawn almost looking demonic when they push their beaks forward resembling distant two-legged dinosaurs. Jays flap precariously in front of the windscreens of cars on the dual carriageways and crows gaze down from lampposts, aerials, rooftops and trees making occasional swoops onto anything edible. Many of the crows in this area have the odd white feather this is usually duplicated on each wing. Some have quite a few and the first few times that I caught a glance of them I thought that I was looking at a different species, one that I had never seen before. It was only on seeing them for a second or third time that I realised that they were standard crows that somehow had acquired new white markings. Many of these carrion are still eating when other birds have retired to their nesting positions for the night. I have found that when placing food out for the hedgehogs, after dusk and just before it's too dark to trip over any random flowerpots - magpies will swoop down and gobble up everything before flying away into the night. There are mournful, distant caws and screeches where once there used to be soft hoots from the tawny owls. The carrion appear to be changing the environment, or perhaps its the other way around. post extra: day 7 after St Swithin's - I have witnessed no rain today although floods throughout the midland counties (Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire - Yorkshire and Berkshire were also flooded badly a few days ago) are extensive with more to come according to broadcasts. Floods have exceeded the flood plain areas and towns and villages which have never suffered flooding before are now deep in water - some homes (particularly mobile homes) are completely submerged . . .

Smashed in the wind and the rain!

The wasp nest that was so perfect when originally discovered began to fall apart a few short weeks later after heavy rainfall and gusty winds. I discovered then, in fact, that the nest wasn't empty as I had first thought for now I could see evidence of dead wasps inside the comb cluster. I think that these may have perished some time before the nest began to disintegrate as I believe there would have been more sightings of the adult wasps if the nest had been thriving.
post extra: day 6 after St Swithin's - the day began very wet continuing on from yesterday, although this afternoon we had a rest from the rain, the dampness hung in the air and there have been soft showers on and off for the remainder of the day.
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Spherical nest

Two Summers ago, after being slapped on the face once too often by one of the long stray tendrils branching out from the honeysuckle, I decided it was time to prune it back. The whole plant was thick with juicy, orange berries and some of the branches looked as though they had been dipped in honey where the aphids huddled together. I clipped off those midway to begin with, as they were at eye level. Then I nipped off some of the bottom branches. This left me with the stragglers at the top reaching upwards towards the sky. As I was stretching on tip-toe for one that was slightly beyond my reach, I noticed what appeared to be a child's ball wedged deep in the heart of the shrub. I clipped back more of the branches to try and pull out the ball. Eventually, I was able to see it quite clearly - it was almost buff in colour, and there were branches protruding through it. I examined it more closely to find a small hole in its bottom. It was then that I realised that it was a nest. A wasps' nest. Despite this nest only being six feet from the back wall of the house there had not been any evidence of wasps in the vicinity throughout the entirety of the Summer. Not a buzz, either inside or outside the house. This wasp nest was between six and seven inches in diameter. It was well constructed, almost a perfect sphere, it looked as though it had been made out of parchment. I left it untouched but only saw one or two wasps near it over the next few weeks. I presumed that the young had been reared and had flown off. post extra: day 5 after St Swithin's day - we have had torrential rain all day and according the weather forecast it is expected to continue until 6.00 am tomorrow morning -

Washed in on a wave

The sea can be a violent place. Pulled by the moon and the sun, and whipped up by the wind. A beach may look cleansed when the tide has turned and the water begins its passage back to the ocean. Sometimes in the ferocity of the waves and vigorous currents, the sea leaves behind some unexpected specimens. So perfect are some of its offerings that it leaves spectators wondering how creatures from the depths can be coughed up and left behind. This small, British, Dogfish Shark was left on the sandy shore where it lay perfect, but dead. I didn't see it struggle and gasp its last breath. It had died moments before. Still to be discovered by the gulls to fill their ever empty stomachs.
The tide must have rushed out so quickly - and the Dogfish Shark was left facing the direction that it wanted to swim in - and there it died.
post extra: day 4 after St Swithin's day - the sun has shone all day, it has been warm with a pleasant breeze but at 8.30 pm we have had thunder followed by heavy showers and more thunder plus lightening!

Tails and Whiskers

The first time the cat presented a mouse to me she dropped it outside the back door, ran inside the kitchen then rubbed my leg before bounding outside and sitting by the small, brown, body. I went over to it. There was no apparent injury, no blood showing, so I checked to see if the creature was alive or dead. It was dead. It was then that I noticed that its tail was on the short side. The tail was between half to two-thirds the length of a normal tail of a mouse. I wondered whether she had nibbled it off but couldn't see any evidence to suggest that she had sheared through it with her young and very razor sharp teeth. Many other kills followed and on each occasion I checked the tails - every one had a short tail. Perhaps it is some genetic mutation in my area, I'm not sure. I was lucky enough to spot one that escaped her deft paws and noticed as it scampered away that it also had a short tail. I was then able to conclude that she definitely wasn't biting the tips of the tails off. Last year, whilst I was in the garden a mouse ran onto the lawn then stopped so still, if it hadn't been covered in fur it could have been mistaken for a statue. The cat ran over to it then also stopped still. This mouse had a normal size tail - the cat left it alone - I was able to dart inside grab a camera and there it stood motionless, not a whisker twitched. The cat was still looking at it, her eyes glued to the spot where the creature stood. I called the cat but she didn't move, not a single muscle. In the end the mouse stood up, lifted its front legs off the ground and began to look at the cat. Both seemed to be staring each other out. The mouse eventually strolled off - the cat didn't follow. post extra: day 3 after St Swithin's - it rained this morning changing into a beatutiful, warm, sunny afternoon - 9.00 pm there are heavy, grey, clouds lurking overhead ...

Gooseberry fool!

There is an old, gnarled, gooseberry bush in the garden. It grows beneath a Bramley apple tree at the side of the compost heap. Perhaps heap is the wrong word, as it is neatly housed in a square, with thick wire mesh on three sides and a wooden keep on the fourth. The gooseberry bush produces a fair amount of tart green berries each July. In between the showers of rain the gooseberry bush was inspected to see if its fruit was ready for picking. Surprisingly, for the first time since it was planted, this old, woody bush has produced berries that are turning red. In fact, some have changed to a colour betwixt red plum and damson. As this is by far the wettest Summer in my lifetime perhaps this is the cause of the fruits sudden change of hue. Do they taste the same? Well may be - but on reflection perhaps a little sweeter! post extra: and just for fun, day 2 after St Swithin's - there has been beautiful sunshine, heavy showers, more intermittent sunshine, thunder, lightening and alternating rainfall and sunny periods!

Have you ever heard a hedgehog?

The first time that I heard a hedgehog, I was in the bathroom. The window was open and I heard a noise that sounded like a cross between sawing a plank of wood and someone impersonating an old steam train. Until that point, I had always maintained how stupid horror movies were - where heroes and heroins would venture into dark, cold, damp, dungeons knowing full well that they could be attacked or even slain at any moment. Admittedly, I was not venturing into any such place, but I did go outside into the pitch blackness to try and discover where the noise was coming from. The relief, when I almost tripped over what must have been a grandfather of all hedgehogs (it was on the large side), was such that I laughed. These little harmless mammals have also caught me out when they have been crunching on cat kibble in the blackness of night! Despite all of the rainfall we had during the day, they were out in force last night. It may well be that there were a multitude of earthworms slithering over the surface of the lawn. Or, perhaps the overwhelming plagues of slugs that are oozing their trails over what seems to be every inch of the pathways, not to mention the plants. Certainly, something appeared to be drawing these little prickly creatures into the back garden. post extra: despite it being St Swithin's day yesterday, the weather has been quite pleasant until 5.00 pm when the first spots of rain began to fall - by 5.50 pm came a loud clap of thunder . . .

The portend

Anticipation often brings on the inevitable. Today is no exception. I awoke early to the musical sound of 'plip, plop, plip, plip.' Once again it was raining. Today, however, is no ordinary day. It is the 15th of July - otherwise known as St Swithin's day - as the saying goes if it rains today then so shall it rain for forty days and forty nights. What a very wet Summer we shall have. The English, and I'm no exception, converse quite often about the weather. We live on a small island where the weather changes so often as to be noticable. A day may begin with clear blue skies and bright sunshine only to change in late afternoon into rolling clouds, a hefty breeze, clap of thunder and distant flash of lightening. The impression visitors may receive upon arrival to our shores is that we are obsessed with the weather. This is not really the case. We tend to use it in conversation. Where in other parts of the world people probably greet each other with "hello" here often the "hello" may be left out and the greeting go straight into conversation relating to the weather such as "Wasn't expecting this today, were you?" or "Just look at it, can't believe it, it hasn't stopped all day." There are a hundred and one variations, often spoken with an added nod. We don't really notice that we're participating in these conversations although they are ones that are spoken to milkmen, shop assistants and strangers at bus stops.

Artist of today

Today, I met an an artist. Her name was Lynda Kettle. She specialises in pastel and water colour. Her pastel pictures are the finest pastels I have ever seen. They are completely flawless. The picture that I particularly liked was the clock tower and great hall of Birmingham University. If you get a chance, its worth taking a look at her work. post extra: for those who may be interested, I have now found the web address for her work it is - www.lynda-kettle.com

The Blob - almost Sci Fi

It's amazing the things that often appear on the beach after high tide. Whilst strolling over one of those wet sandy beaches, with the breeze softly spraying the ocean onto my face, I almost trod onto the largest beached jellyfish I've ever encountered. It measured approximately 2ft 6ins in diameter. I did one of those bizarre movements trying to avoid tripping head first into its centre and looked as though I was practising some peculiar choreographical movement freshly invented. I eventually hovered at its edge trying to confirm whether it was showing any signs of movement. The water had only just lapped away from it - the tide on its way out. I would have expected a mass of tentacles with such a large jellyfish - but as you can see there appeared to be none. As I continued on my way, I found several more. All appeared to be the same variety - although I'm unsure what variety it is - I have neither seen them before that day or since.

'Pop' goes the Weasel!

A while back, when the weather was dry and I was able to venture outside I walked towards the lawn and spied a small elongated ball of fluff. As I slowly approached it, I realised that it was a weasel. It lay motionless - I bent down to see if there was any sign of life at all - but sadly it was dead. How fortunate to see such a beautiful animal at such close quarters. How unusual and rare to see one on the lawn. But what a shame that such a beautiful, perfect, little creature should be dead! I wonder how it came to meet its end? The only thing that I can think may have happened is that it was killed by a cat. Either our own or one of the many that live in the vacinity.

Slippery, slithering, shiny slug slime

More strange things happening. It may be because of all of the rain we have had - slugs are climbing the walls! I have also noticed one with a large hole in its back. Nothing seems to be oozing out of the hole, but it's attracting other slugs. One had small orange or red creatures running all over its skin, it was difficult to determine their actual colour in the dark. The slime didn't seem to cause any problems to these little creatures and the slug didn't seem to mind the invasion of the strange little beasts! What could they be? What is the hole in the slugs back? I wonder if I'll see anything similar ever again?

Curious Behaviour - Bee

Last Spring we invested in an insect house - the label declared that it was for lacewing and ladybirds to hibernate during the Winter. The directions were quite explicit - fix so that the box faces a southerly direction. The ideal spot was found and it was securely nailed to a small garden shed. The Summer arrived and slowly the wood faded, by Winter it looked as though it had been there for a good five years. There were no signs, however, of any ladybirds or lacewings - just the odd woodlouse. Yesterday though the strangest thing occurred. I noticed that a few of the bamboo lacewing shelters had been sealed over. Shortly afterwards, a couple of bees came buzzing around entering the holes then turning around and coming out again. This was happening all day. I'm not sure what variety of bee they are, although they do resemble honey bees. What are they doing? Are they making this into a hive? Could they be breeding in the insect box? I suppose we shall have to wait and see!!

Beautiful Day

Where was I yesterday? It was the first beautiful dry day that we have had in quite a while - so I was outside and wondering why after all the rainfall, did the hydrangea's flowers and leaves look quite so floppy? How fast the ground drank in the rain. Just a few hours of brief sunshine dried off the topsoil even though it was 19o C, the slight breeze crisped off the earth extremely quickly. At least the hydrangea has recovered and today is looking its old spectacular self! The forecast for today was rain from 9.00 am - so far, the sun has shone down beautifully! Then by mid-afternoon ... I should have have known - this afternoon the skies once more clouded over with the darkest of gray clouds and then there was a loud grumble of thunder - rain clouds ... and rain drops followed ... here we go again!

Money Saving Advice

I found this site quite by chance and was amazed at how much useful advice it holds. http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/ I have heard Martin Lewis talking before, and have seen him on television offering really good advice on all kinds of information - but I didn't realize that he had set up his own website. Well, I've dipped my toes in and toured around the site and saved it in "my favourites" in case I ever need it again!!

Wet - Wet - Wet ....but not too wet for the frog!

It rained yesterday, it rained last night, and it has rained and rained today. This is one of the local frogs and even he has jumped off the lawn and onto a stone for a rest out of the dripping grass. At least he's at home in this weather but the slugs and snails are multiplying so much that he and his family can't keep up with munching them all down. Even with the help from the hedghogs ..... the snails and slugs appear to be winning in the multiplication stakes.

The Cat - relaxed feline

Why is it, that when sleeping, the cat finds herself in the most unusual of poses? How can she be fully relaxed, yet stretched at the same time? Every time she falls asleep she seems to find a new pose to lie in .... perhaps that is why she is always slender - all that stretching, even whilst sleeping!

Red Frog

There are a family of frogs that live in the pond. They all have very similar markings and features. Most of them line the edges of the pond pushing their noses up between the rocks. Some are quite friendly and welcome a stroke on the top of their heads. A few back away shyly. Occasionally, something is spotted that takes the breath away - one such visitor is pictured up above. A red frog. It is similar in size and shape but its markings are different. It is quite friendly with the rest of the frogs - perhaps it is related. A red frog in the heart of England, is I think quite unusual ...... perhaps it may be due to global warming ...... perhaps something else ...... perhaps there have always been red frogs in English gardens!

Energy Saving Light Bulbs

The first time that I tried energy saving light bulbs - I was extremely disappointed with the result. Firstly, the poor light quality reminded me of a quote my mother used to make when entering a poorly lit room. She would always say "it reminds me of the workhouse." Not as she had ever experienced the workhouse but it was the unpleasant ambiance that a poorly lit room always seems to have. Secondly, the long length poked awkwardly from out of the lamp shades. Overall the result was dreadful. Recently, however, whilst on a shopping trip to B & Q - I found some that were shaped like squat twists that also had bayonet fastenings. We have a multi light and so I purchased quite a few of these bulbs. After placing them into the glass shades - I was pleased that they were not too long - but I almost held my breath as I pressed down the light switch. The result surprised me as the effect was much brighter than the traditional variety. I just hope that B & Q have more when I go back!

It's Sunday

It's Sunday - it started once more, with a light downpour of rain. It feels quite mild and pleasant though. For the first time ever we had a squirrel scurry past the back door. It was quite plump for a squirrel of the grey variety. I suspect that it had been nibbling at the cat kibble that had been scattered for the hedghogs. As it came by the door, which was slightly ajar, it gave me a cheeky sideways glance and scurried down the path and through a little bolt hole that has deliberately made in the fence for the cat to pass through!