British summertime started today; the days are getting longer, the soil is warming and, over the past week, the hawthorn hedge has turned bright green as the leaf buds open. We’re getting ahead with the garden; I put the Vivaldi second early potatoes in yesterday and we put the Stuggarter Riesen onion sets in earlier in the week. The alkathene piping and netting are there to stop the blackbirds pulling them up. In a few weeks, once the onions have started to put down roots, we’ll be able to remove the netting.
I’m drawing a seabird cliff for the May article of my Wild Yorkshire nature diary for the Dalesman magazine. When we visited Bempton Cliffs in May last year, I didn’t take my sketchbook as I was trying out a new telephoto lens. One of my photographs includes kittiwake and herring gull; razorbill and guillemot and a pair of puffins, all on their favoured nesting ledges and crevices, so I’m using that as reference for my illustration.
I would have struggled to draw that morning, as there was an eye-wateringly cold wind, but when we retreated to Scarborough for lunch it was like stepping into summer: the wind dropped and the sun came out.
They’re letting the alpacas out into the paddock this morning at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, Whitley. They seem so excited and frisky that I get the impression that this must be the first time they’ve been out since they were transferred to the stables for the winter.
Also getting their first taste of springtime freedom are the donkeys, which are trotting out briskly but not as boisterously as the llamas.
Crows v. Kestrel
We spot a kestrel hovering motionless over the open pasture but it doesn’t stay there for long: two carrion crows make a beeline towards it and the first dives down on it then loops around and swoops up from below, sending it on its way.
There’s a high-pitched whistling call from the wildfowl pool where a drake is having a go at a pair of mandarin ducks, which are perching on a rock at the corner of the pool. Unlike the kestrel, it doesn’t look as if they’re going to move.
I must go back and take a closer look at the ‘drake’. I’ve drawn him from memory and made him look like a miniature Canada goose, but I suspect that he might have been a variety of duck. He might even have had a black mask and a white neck, rather than vice versa, like a barnacle goose, as I’ve shown him.
This morning we’ve been giving the back garden a spring makeover. While Barbara tackled the flower border (below), I strimmed the meadow area and, using a telescopic-handled pruner, trimmed back the end of a Leylandii cypress hedge that overhangs the fence from next door.
Last week, the long-handled pruner worked well on the rowan at the front but, when trying to get at some of the higher branches of the golden hornet crab apple, I found that I was constantly getting it snagged on the crab’s twiggy shoots, so I climbed a step ladder (which converts into a short ladder) and used long-handled loppers from a better vantage point in the crown of the tree.
The black-tipped feather, lower right, is definitely wood pigeon, probably a secondary from its left wing. The others, I’m not so sure about; the white leading edge of the top feather makes me think gull.
The brownish cast to the feather, lower left, might be from a pink-footed goose. There’s a pinioned goose which we often see preening by the path beside the Middle Lake at Nostell, where I picked up all these feathers.
10.15 a.m.: It’s almost a year since we walked the circuit of Langsett Reservoir. We always go anticlockwise as the lakeside path through the pines gets us off to a brisk start; we prefer to leave picking our way through the mud at the far corner of the lake until later.
A coal tit flits about, investigating the branches of a lakeside pine.
As we climb the rocky path up to the moor, a robin perches in a shrub on the heathy slope.
A curlew repeats its bubbling call over an expanse of heather. Down by the lake we hear a shrill piping, which we guess is a sandpiper.
After a long, dull winter, Sainsbury’s know how to get you as you stroll into the supermarket: I couldn’t resist these bright packs of bee and butterfly meadow mixes. All I’ve got to do now is clear several square metres of ground, plant the bulbs and sow the seed mixes, and wait for the flowers to attract the local pollinators.
There are plants that I would never have selected for our garden, such as gladioli, dahlia and delphinium, so it will be fun to see what works. As the labels suggest, they’ll all be attractive to bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects.
Apart from the squirrel-nibbled cone, which is from Nostell, I picked up these seeds and the lichen and the snail shell on a mossy tree-fringed lawn in Ossett.
Some of the sycamore seeds had begun to sprout while all that was left of the lime seed was the pair of wings that propelled it through the air.
The lichen, Xanthoria parietina, would normally be yellow but it turns greenish when it grows in shade. The insides of the spore-producing cups – the apothecia – have kept their colour.
The spiky ornamental grasses, the shrubby purple hebe and the tete-a-tete daffodils have all bulked up but the stars of the show are the primulas. They’ve been no more than a bedraggled rosette of leaves all winter but over the past couple of weeks we’ve seen more and more flowers appearing.
12 noon: When we arrive at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, Whitley Lower, there’s a clear view across Mirfield and the Calder Valley to the hills beyond, with patches of sunlight scudding gently across the landscape.
On the highest ground in the distance, there’s a white brilliance, which appears to be a powdering of snow.
A buzzard circles over Liley Wood, below us to the west.
Grey cloud and misty rain obscure the view for ten minutes or so, as a shower passes over.
Charlotte’s used to be a regular weekly destination for several years, when we’d head here on a Thursday morning for coffee and scones with my mum. She died a little over two years ago but, had she lived, we would have been celebrating her ninety-ninth birthday last Sunday. In fact, she once suggested that for her one hundredth birthday she would like treat all her family and friends to a gathering at Charlotte’s.
Her latest great-grandchild, Henry, is making his first visit here today, but he’s far too young to appreciate the ice cream.
A large spotted pig is contentedly snoring in its pen.
Also taking a break, there’s a pochard on the duck pond, sleeping with its bill tucked under its wing.