As we’re watching a buzzard cruising along down the valley over the reservoir, a red grouse hurries away further up onto the moor, flying almost directly over us. It’s this rapid, low flight away from perceived danger that makes them so popular as a game bird. I wouldn’t want to shoot them myself, but I realise how much work goes into ensuring that there’s always fresh heather shoots on the moor to bring up the numbers to make shooting viable.
The tadpoles have gathered in the last remaining patch of sunlight in the corner of the pond, the same corner that the frogs gathered in when they spawned.
A male smooth newt stirs up sediment. He’s enticing a female who has been hidden away amongst the pondweed. He starts wafting his tail towards her then upends as if he’s breakdancing. The pair disappear amongst the vegetation.
Common Dog-violet, Viola riviniana
We refreshed the wood chip on the paths by the raised bed last autumn so we don’t have lots of violets growing like weeds on it this spring, however these have survived in a crevice between the sandstone blocks on the south-east facing side of the bed, so I hope that they’ll soon start spreading again.
Thanks to the close up photograph that I took of our miniature pansies, I now know that the two white dashes that I can see in the middle of each flower – like a little moustache on its ‘face’ – are the lateral hairs, not stamens or stigmas.
It’s the sort of feature that gets astrogeologists exciting when they spot it on photographs of the surface of Mars or on the moons of the major planets as it’s evidence of flowing water (or on Titan it could be flowing liquid methane!).
It’s just a guess but I think that the block is now upside down and that originally this was the edge of a channel through a sandbank. If I’m right, the curve cutting through the rock represents the side of the channel, scoured out by a distributary stream in a river delta and the ripple marks show where, nearer the surface of the flowing water, sediment was redistributed to form the ripples.
These sandstone blocks were in the garden when we moved in and I suspect they came from the old quarry in Coxley Valley which is only a few hundred yards away. In the face of the quarry there are several examples of channels cutting through what were once sand banks.
South Bay, Scarborough, 10.55 a.m., 75°F, 20°C in the sun but a breeze from the sea from the north north-east keeps it pleasant: At last I’ve found my way to a rock pool; I’ve never made it down to this end of South Bay at low tide before. I’m sitting on an outcrop of rock, the upper surface of which is covered in barnacles (but I’ve brought a folding foam pad, so I’m quite comfortable!). Dotted amongst them are limpets, some with small fronds of seaweed attached to the shell.
Scattered about there are winkles, some in crevices, others on exposed edges of the rock which are now in the full glare of the morning sun. The tide should cover them in the next couple of hours.
In this shallow rock pool, which is more like a rock puddle, a few tiny shrimp-like creatures occasionally dart out from beneath the channeled wrack. There’s a small tuft of reddish coralline seaweed in the middle of the pool.
A herring gull goes into its bathing routine: wings held out, it dips its head and spreads water over its back.
On the sunny side of the pagoda roof of the floating bandstand seventeen herring gulls are snoozing, all facing into the prevailing breeze.
Herring Gull Mating
- South Bay, near the lifeboat station, 3.30 p.m. (top of page, bottom right sketches): A herring gull is standing on the beach apparently just watching the world go by. It starts calling, the laughing cry that instantly conjures up a picture of a seaside town for me when I hear it in a radio play.
- A second gull flies down and the first calls at it as if in greeting, but perhaps with a degree of agitation – ‘and where have you been?!’. The second bird responds with a head nod.
- The pair see off a rival.
- There’s a mating, a successful mating, I guess. It’s the female who has been waiting on the beach.
- The female waggles her rear end. The male leaves first, then the female.
It reminds me of a 1980 book, The Golden Turkey Awards, featuring what were affectionately judged to be the worst ever movies. It included a close up of two sea gulls with the caption ‘One of the steamy love scenes from Jonathan Livingston Seagull.’
Dewsbury station, 9.45 a.m., 69°F, 20°C: As we wait for our train on platform 2, the south-east facing stone embankment is a sun trap this morning. A fresh looking peacock butterfly basks on the wall. Our first large whites, two of them, flutter over the blossoming shrubs. House sparrows chirrup and argue in the cover of the neatly trimmed laurel. A female blackbird disappears into a dense growth of ivy. She doesn’t seem to be plucking at berries so perhaps she has a nest hidden there. A wren sings lustily from the shrubs. Above, a grey squirrel climbs a eucalyptus, its grey green foliage contrasts with a clear, deep blue sky.
Scarborough train, Church Fenton, 10.25 a.m.: The floods have subsided but some of the fields in the Vale of York are still sodden; three lapwings stand at the edge of a pool in a ploughed field. I glimpse a llama as we pass a farm.
A heron stands in a marshy field; a buzzard flies over the Vale of Pickering. Cloud is building as we head to the coast.
1.35 p.m., 45°F, 8°C, dropping cooler as it clouds over: Two bullfinches make a thorough job of nibbling the blossom buds on a small tree that overhangs the path in a quiet side valley in the woodland at Peasholm Park. I say quiet but a chaffinch sings an emphatically chirpy song, and a chiff-chaff is calling. Wood pigeon and great tit join in occasionally.
The flood has subsided since I drew the Strands, a field between the river and the canal, a month or two ago. Two pairs teal are disturbed as we walk by; a heron stalks patiently amongst the rushes; and a pair of lapwing seem to be considering nesting on an open stretch of the field exposed by the retreating water. There’s another single lapwing not far away.
A hirundine flies over the canal; we don’t get a brilliant view but we don’t spot any tail streamers and it then starts making a chirruping call which we’re familiar with from previous years: it’s our first house martin of the year.
3.50 p.m., 45ºF, 7ºc, light drizzle, overcast: We’re getting so ahead with our garden this spring that, if I want to draw a weed, I need to go down behind the greenhouse and even then there’s not much to see so far. The bitter-cress is quick off the mark, growing and setting its seeds ahead of most of the other garden weeds. This looks like hairy bitter-cress, but to be sure I’d have to count the number of stamens (it has six).
There are five opposite pairs of leaflets on each pinnate leaf. It’s growing in disturbed, rather clayey ground alongside chicory, cleavers and chickweed. It’s only the bitter-cress that has burst into flower.
As it was drizzling, I used pencil and crayons for my quick sketch of the bitter-cress.