Category: River Stour

Notes from a riverside garden – April 2021

Sunrise over the water meadows on a frosty, April morning

The garden is a hive of activity with nest building in progress or completed in numerous locations. A pair of starlings have found an opening under the eaves of our garage roof and are busily darting in and out. This space has been used by bees in the past.

Adjacent to the garage is a Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ where a pair of blue tits have taken up residence in a nest box affixed to the trunk of the tree. Close to the mill pool ivy has completely covered a pollarded, dead ash tree and this provides an excellent nesting site. We are suspicious a duck is nesting in there. It is a sizeable area of dense habitat, with a pigeon nesting, and probably other birds we have not noticed as yet.

I have been watching a pair of goldfinches building their nest in the top of a small Holm oak from our bedroom window. The pair fly off together each time searching for nesting material but only one returns with a blade of grass or a small feather (the materials I have observed so far) and disappears into the tree, while the male sits waiting in a prominent position close by. I have read that the females construct the nest so I assume she is the one conveying the nesting materials. Within a very short while she flies out and off they go together in search of the next item. They are back and forth within minutes. Such industry is admirable.

Evening at Henny bridge over the Stour

Evening at Henny bridge over the Stour

The pair of swans were mating in the mill pool during the Easter weekend. Such an elegant and rather beautiful bonding ritual takes place prior to mating with mirrored neck movements. I have observed this several times over the years, and I am always stopped in my tracks if I am fortunate enough to see this delightful display taking place. The aggressive and territorial nature of the cob swan has also been on display with two or three violent confrontations taking place in the mill pool with an interloping cob. The necks being used as a weapon as they entwine and beat each other with their wings in fights that can continue for some time. Eventually the loser manages to extricate himself from the relentless pecking and pounding of the resident male and makes a hasty retreat, usually across the island and to the river above the mill pool sluice gates. The female circles around the battling males giving the interloper the occasional peck too! We think it is the same cob trying to take over the mill pond territory but so far he has always been driven away minus a few feathers!

We were so thrilled to see a kettle of eight swallows swooping and circling over the river early on Easter Monday. Snow was in the air! Their visit was brief but a fabulous way to start the day. Other sightings in the garden include the blackcap, reed bunting and several chiffchaffs filling the air with their song. A pair of Egyptian geese also made their presence known for a few days as they surveyed the island as a possible nesting site. Being of an aggressive nature they chased off the mallards from a wide area around them. Calm has now returned as the geese seem to have moved on.

The paving on the terrace outside the kitchen window has been there for many years and gaps have appeared in places adjacent to the low brick wall and these are where the bank voles access their underground world. They dart out and make off with any seeds that fall from the bird feeders above. Recently we saw a stoat exiting a larger gap with a rodent in its mouth! It happened so fast it was impossible to identify the rodent, most probably a vole but maybe mice live under the terrace too.

In the same area, only two or three yards from our kitchen window, and where we walk past several times each day is a clump of long established thyme. It has become quite woody and about a foot high. I just take the flowerheads off with shears once they have finished flowering later in the year. The low brick wall extends around behind it. We have had ducks sheltering in the middle of this clump with their ducklings in the past. They are so well camouflaged and can sink down into the slightly open middle of the clump but still be hidden from view. This year we have discovered a duck nesting in this spot! She currently has six eggs. It is so hard to see her as the excellent camouflage her feathers provide merge completely into the stems and thin foliage of the thyme. In some ways it is the perfect nesting site. We put out grain and there is a water tray where she washes and drinks. She is also safer regarding the drakes who will chase any female that ventures from the safety of her nesting site. She is tucked away so not so visible to them. Yesterday she flew up onto the wall and within seconds was in flight being pursued by three or four drakes. When she does leave the nest the eggs are all carefully covered with a mossy layer so completely invisible to any predators from above. Nesting at ground level is a danger however, as we have badgers, foxes and a domestic cat as nocturnal visitors plus, of course, the resident stoat. We shall have to wait and see what happens. It is a hard time for the females, laying and sitting on eggs, avoiding the unwanted attentions of the opportunist drakes and later trying to raise their broods.

Thirteen tiny ducklings were on the terrace with their mother over the Easter weekend. They haven’t returned again but some ducklings have been seen in the lake on the island so hopefully the family have found a safe place there.

This morning there were four mallard ducks sitting on the ridge of the house roof. A good spot to keep an eye on all that is happening around them!

This morning there were four mallard ducks sitting on the ridge of the house roof. A good spot to keep an eye on all that is happening around them!

Notes from a riverside garden – March 2021

Helleborus Orientalis in bloom.

The remaining pools of flood water on the water meadows are slowly disappearing but are still attracting large flocks of seagulls, Canada and Greylag geese amongst others, to the area. It is a joy to observe the abundance of wildlife in the valley. Of particular note was the sighting for a few days of a Great White Egret along the riverbank. A stately bird, of a similar size to a Grey Heron, with a slow and deliberate flight as it progressed across the meadow. A birdwatcher walking the footpath was keenly watching it with his binoculars on one occasion. More birdwatchers are seen on the meadow due in part to the variety and number of birds present at this time, we suspect. It is good to see people appreciating the wildlife in our area.

With the warmer weather the number of folks out walking their dogs on the water meadow has increased. Most stick to the footpaths but a number wander wherever the fancy takes them, with their dogs usually off the lead. We witnessed one of the well known resident swans in the village so nearly being mauled or worse by two large dogs, off the lead. The dogs streaked away from their owner, oblivious to his frantic calls for them to come back, heading straight for the swan who was grazing on the riverbank. By some miracle the swan just managed to get back into the river as the dogs slid to a halt at the waters edge. For a moment it looked as if one of them was going to plunge into the river after the swan. I have to say I was so angered by what we had witnessed that I yelled across the river and the noise of the weir at the owner to keep his dogs on a lead, in fairness to him he did put them on leads after the incident.

On a cold February day I was most surprised to see two ladies, only clad in swimming costumes, not wetsuits, swimming past the house! It was some while before they came swimming back, climbed up the bank and left the meadow wrapped up in warm coats. I admire their mettle!

The wet and muddy area along the footpath on the meadow brought a smile to our faces when a young woman, faced with getting muddy shoes, pulled a carrier bag out of her rucksack and then stepped inside the carrier bag. What happened next was so hilarious as she tried to take minute steps, her feet confined in the bag, across the muddy section of footpath! Of course, the bag soon fell apart, she had almost fallen over several times and despite her ingenuity she still got muddy shoes/wet feet!

Reedmace (also known as bulrush) in the river

Reedmace (also known as bulrush) in the river

A clump of reedmace (commonly known as bulrush) is looking rather impressive as the brown seed heads have “exploded” resulting in a froth of soft, cottonwool like seeds hanging in readiness to be blown away on the breeze.

Most of the female ducks are on their nests now (early March) and the drakes are idly passing the time of day. We have a pure white duck resident in the garden, who patiently sits in the same area of river for most of the day. We assume his mate is not far away on her nest and periodically we see them briefly together when she emerges to feed. This morning when I was looking out of the bedroom window a duck flew down from our roof onto the high Leylandii hedge, the top of which is on a level with our bedroom window. She looked around for a moment or two and then disappeared into the top of the hedge. She must have a nest tucked away inside. We have seen ducklings tumbling down from the top of this hedge in the past. Ducks tend to nest off the ground hidden away in tree stumps, log piles, on the pillbox in the ivy and in the Leylandii hedge.

At night the otters can be seen in the river, silently making their way through the water. Geese fly overhead in the pitch dark, calling to each other as they progress. Tawny owls are frequently heard communicating through the darkness.

We have coppiced our hazels, taking a few branches from each to be used later in the year as runner bean poles and the tops for pea sticks and plant supports. The tops make excellent plant supports as they soon merge into the border and have many twiggy branches for plants to grow through.

Puschkinia Libanotica in full bloom

Puschkinia Libanotica in full bloom

The garden is bursting into life with exuberant daffodils, crocus and anemone blanda lifting our spirits. One of our many willows was alive with large bumble bees all feeding from the catkins of the hoary willow, Salix elaeagnos, on a recent sunny day. I also had a fleeting sighting of a Brimstone butterfly – a sign that spring has arrived. SB

A Place, and Time for Everything by Stuart Bowditch

A Place and Time For Everything flyer image

A Place, and Time for Everything

CAMP Radio (Quarterly)

In 2020 Stuart Bowditch was invited to contribute a regular show to CAMP Radio, an internet radio station run by CAMP FR from their base in the French Pyrenees mountains. His previous shows/DJ residencies were music based so he thought it would be a good opportunity to broadcast some of his field recordings of the natural, urban and suburban environments instead of playing the creations of others.

Each edition is representative of a particular location, whether Stuart’s time there has been part of a project or on his travels around the world. Episode 1 features 2 hours of field recordings from the River Blackwater in Essex, where Stuart visited between November 2019 and April 2020 as part of his Resounding project, (funded by Arts Council England). Resounding followed in the footsteps of JA Baker, author of The Peregrine that was published in 1967, and documents his endeavours to spot and understand the elusive bird of prey. Listen to Stuart’s recordings made near Tollesbury, Osea Island, Goldhanger, Maylandsea, Stone and Bradwell. Resounding here.

Episode 2 captures a visit to Palestine and Israel in 2019 with Ruth Philo, and includes recordings made in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dormition Abbey, Tomb of the Virgin Mary, St. Anne’s Church, Church of Condemnation, The Western Wall and St, James’ Cathedral Church, all in Jerusalem; The Milk Grotto and Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; St. Joseph’s Church and The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, as well as streetscapes from each of those cities. Listen to Palestine and Israel here.

Episode 3 documents a month-long trip around China conducting research for the Fabric:Silk Road project with Ruth Philo (funded by British Council). Fabric:Silk Road is a cultural and ethnographic exchange making connections between the silk mills of Sudbury, Suffolk and the silk industry and traditions in China. During their time there they visited the cities of Yantai, Xi’an, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Shanghai researching and meeting silk designers, shops, mills, historical exhibits and a sericulture plant. As well as streetscapes, buskers and religious ceremonies you can listen to several different silk mills and even hear silkworms munching mulberry leaves. Listen to China here.

The River Runs Through Us film still

The River Runs Through Us film still

Episode 4 will be broadcast on 15th March and will feature recordings made along the River Stour between 2016 and 2018 as part of the project The River Runs Through Us with Ruth Philo (funded by Arts Council England/Dedham Vale AONB). The film from the project has been screened at 7 pubs and galleries in the Stour valley as well as in China, Berlin and Venice Biennale 2019, and Stuart played a selection of the field recordings between bands at a Daylight Music event at the Union Chapel in London in 2019.

Further information can be found at:

CAMP Radio http://listen.camp/#shows

The River Runs Through Us http://www.theriverrunsthroughus.uk/events.html

Stuart Bowditch https://www.stuartbowditch.co.uk/live-dj/

 

Notes from a riverside garden – February 2021

A bend in the River Stour in the snowy landscape

The river continues to run at a high level with a few days of flooding following a spell of rain. Even relatively small amounts of rainfall propel the river level upwards. Pools of floodwater linger, reluctant to drain away, on the water meadows. The bomb crater, within the water meadow, now resembles a large pond. Debris, left high and dry following the flooding, is caught up in the sheep fence running across the meadow. Sadly this includes an assortment of discarded packaging, plastic bottles etc which have been, at some point, tossed into the river. This mound of debris has been of some assistance to walkers during times of flooding. We have seen them precariously balanced on the debris, hanging onto the barbed wire top strand of fencing for extra support, as they try to negotiate the deep flood water at a higher level. I must say we have had some entertainment observing the antics of walkers. Two men were seen with trousers rolled up, carrying their trainers and wading through the knee high flood water with bare feet. Not an enviable option given the temperature of the water! Two young women were in fits of giggles as the water spilled over into the tops of their wellington boots as they struggled across.   Others have prodded fearfully into the depths with their walking poles and decided to turn back. Dogs have had great fun charging about, spray flying in their wake.

A few days have passed since I wrote the previous paragraph, a blast of very cold weather has arrived with snow, ice and very low overnight temperatures. The temperature last night was forecast to dip to minus ten degrees, the coldest night for ten years. Outside the snow that fell earlier this week still lingers in places. The view across the water meadows is akin to frozen tundra! Our terracotta pots now resemble giant cupcakes with a liberal topping of royal icing!

The bird table has been a hive of activity with a constant flurry of visitors. The robins and blackbirds appear to expend a vast amount of energy chasing each other away from the food supply. In addition to the usual offerings of bird seed, fat balls, insect suet squares (much preferred to the fat balls) and peanuts, I add mealworms and also handfuls of wheat during harsh weather. The wheat is for the pheasants and dare I say for the four pigeons who visit the feeding area. My father, a farmer, would be horrified to know that I feed pigeons!! There is quite a squabble between the pigeons and collared doves if they arrive at the same time. The collared doves usually win and drive the much larger pigeons away.

A beacon of golden yellow at this time is the Hamamelis (witch hazel) on the millpond bank. It is a large specimen and looks fabulous against a clear blue winter sky. We recently planted three young witch hazel’s on the island but due to all the recent flooding they have spent a while with their roots underwater. In flower at the moment but not sure what the long term repercussions of being so water-logged will be. It is relatively fleeting however.

Snow on a flowering bush

Snow on a flowering bush

The intense cold has created some incredible ice sculpture around the garden. Beside the sluice gates spiral formation icicles encase overhanging branches. Further into the garden a truly magical natural wonder awaits where the spray from the weir has created a multitude of extraordinary icicles. The photos below illustrate some of them.

Icicles hanging from a tree by the River Stour

River Stour icicles

Icicles hanging from a tree by the River Stour

River Stour icicles

SB

Notes from a riverside garden, January 2021

 

There are indications that the autumnal signs in nature of a harsh winter to come might be born out with the current cold spell we are experiencing. I am writing on the 8th January so perhaps by the time you read this it will be milder again! The frost is lingering in sheltered spots with a gloomy, grey sky overhead. Snow is falling in some parts of the country.

In November we were amazed to see two broods of fourteen ducklings appear in the garden! One of the ducks brought her brood up to feed on the spillage from the bird feeders outside our kitchen window. We quickly put duck food out for them and were delighted to watch them during their regular visits, such an unusual sight at this time of year. Sadly, as is normally the case, the brood reduced in number on a daily basis, until only four remained. This was also the case with the family that didn’t come to the house for food. We have watched the remaining ducklings mature and they are now fully fledged and have become part of the large flock of ducks residing in the garden. The ducklings have survived sharp overnight frosts, snow and cold conditions generally. Plus several large floods. The river in flood seemed a major peril but even as small ducklings, faced with the very strong current to cross the river, accomplished the crossing with apparent ease. We feared they must surely be swept away. Amazing how strong small ducklings are!

The floods have been very dramatic with my husband and I raising and lowering the sluice gates several times over the past weeks. Parts of our garden were underwater and the flood plain water meadows opposite us a sea of water as far as one could see. On one occasion a lone canoeist was paddling about on the water meadow and waved as he came past our house. Vast flocks of seagulls and other birds descended creating a scene of true wilderness. The Canada and Greylag geese increased in numbers present too. The sunrise looking particularly fabulous reflected in the expanse of water. The straw protection placed over the Gunnera Manicata was swept away but now we have the replacement straw held in position with a ring of bamboo canes, we hope!

The owner of the water meadow has left a pile of tree trunks close to the river for wildlife. A colony of rabbits has taken over the area and can frequently be seen sitting on the trunks or in the vicinity. We wondered what would happen to the rabbits during the flood as the whole area was underwater. To our amazement we have seen at least four rabbits since the water has subsided, so somehow at least a few have survived! Molehills have appeared on the island where the water was at least three feet deep. How do moles survive a flood? There are many unanswered questions!

Signs of spring are appearing. Snowdrops are out in the shelter of a hedge and bulbs are pushing through. Spring is on its way! SB

The Essex bank of River Stour estuary becomes part of AONB

 This week has seen England’s first extension to an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) in nearly 30 years .

The Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB has been expanded by about 38 sq km (14.6 sq miles) – almost a tenth of its size – to include the Stour Estuary, stretching from Manningtree to Harwich in Essex, and a tributary of the estuary called the Samford Valley. This means that both the Suffolk and Essex banks of the Stour estuary are now part of the AONB.

The map shows existing parts of the AONB in light pink, with the new additions in darker pink, taking in the Essex bank of the Stour, woodland at Freston and Samford Valley between East Bergholt, Brantham and Stutton.

The northern banks of the River Stour, in Suffolk, already had the designation and campaigners have pressed for it to be extended to Essex for decades. The expansion will enable businesses and tourist sites to promote the area as an AONB and access relevant grants.

David Wood, chairman of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Partnership, said: “We are delighted that this order has been confirmed. The AONB partnership, made up of public private and third sector organisations, has had an aspiration to bring the benefits of the designation to a wider area for over 20 years. Locally we have always known that the area identified in the order was outstanding, and with this news we can be confident that the natural beauty of the area will be conserved and enhanced for future generations.”

Read more from BBC news website    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-53308890

 

 

Notes from a riverside garden May 2020

Due to coronavirus, the country is in lockdown but the countryside in the Stour Valley is full of activity and growth. SB brings us the latest observations from  her beautiful garden on the banks of the River Stour. 

May Garden Clippings 

The garden has been a great help to us during this time of lockdown, providing a calming environment and a place to enjoy the fresh air and knuckle down to tasks whether it be weeding, mowing or pricking out seedlings, there is always something to absorb oneself in.

A pair of swans have now built a nest in the reedy mere on the island. We were doubtful this was going to happen but delighted when construction began. It is a laborious task with reeds having to be pulled up and painstakingly assembled to create a large raised structure. Reeds and other vegetation need to be continuously added during the nesting period as the lower level turns to mulch and sinks in the damp environment. No eggs so far. The swans are very partial to the emergent weeping-willow leaves and nibble away at the level they can reach of the trailing branches, leaving bare twigs at an even height all round.

We have two or three families of ducklings. The surviving broods are few in number but the ducklings seem to be thriving. A duck brings her three ducklings up to the terrace outside our kitchen window for the food we provide followed by a drink and a quick swim in a tray of water nearby. It is so amusing watching them tuck into the food then all clambering into the water tray. A step had to be provided initially but now they can access the water with ease. Mother duck sits nearby as they entertain themselves. On colder days they tuck themselves under her wings for warmth.

We have been waiting to hear the melodious song of the reed warbler in the garden. On the 2nd May we heard them in two locations. They return to the dense stands of bamboo each year and their fabulous song bursts forth and fills the air. Spring has truly arrived! We have heard the cuckoo but to date no sign of swallows, swifts or martins. Our small flock of sparrows seems to have disappeared. We are not sure why, perhaps a better food source elsewhere or due to predation, though the later is not explained by the abundance of chaffinches, goldfinches and greenfinches still present.

A small common lizard was spotted sunning itself on a leaf in a border close to our front door. It seemed unperturbed when we walked past. We discovered the discarded skin of a large snake on the island, probably a grass snake as we do see them from time to time basking in the sun on warm days.

We have planted a clump of dark blue camassia on the bank of our water garden. They do look impressive and the bees enjoy them too. A pale blue variety is not looking so vigorous planted in a different area of the garden.

Elsewhere one of our wisteria, with a double mauve flower is in full bloom. The white wisteria on the pergola is covered in flower buds and we eagerly await the spectacle to come. It really is magnificent and a joy to walk beneath the racemes suspended from above.

             In the walled garden

We are always on the lookout for scats around the garden which gives us a good clue as to who is visiting. Having not seen any evidence of hedgehogs for some time, we were feeling rather despondent.   However, we recently spotted fresh hedgehog droppings! They are still with us, albeit in a different area of the garden. We were concerned as we do have regular visits from badgers but given the abundance of other food sources we are hopeful they will leave the hedgehogs alone.

Across in the meadow the first pinpricks of yellow are appearing as the buttercups start to make their vivid entrance. A meadow full of buttercups is a fabulous sight. In the distance, there is a froth of white May blossom delineating the route of the branch line.

I have been trying to identify the wildflowers as they emerge in the area of lawn we are leaving uncut. Nothing particularly unusual so far but we have had several Lady’s Smock/Cuckoo Flower ( I prefer to use the common names) a food plant of the orange tip butterfly caterpillar. Ground Ivy, Common Mouse-ear, Jack-by-the-hedge, Plantain, dandelion, buttercups and daisies. The area is busy with bees and butterflies, which is exactly what we intended it for. SB

Notes from a Riverside Garden – March

Our blog post today comes from SB writing about her beautiful garden on the banks of the Stour. Signs of spring are evident, something to cheer us in theses uncertain times.

We seem to have several pairs of swans vying for the territory around us. Two pairs live in reasonably close proximity to each other on the water meadows opposite. One pair are often seen in the flooded bomb crater (a legacy of the second world war when bombs were jettisoned over the village). The crater fills during times of flood and creates a shallow pool which is frequented by ducks, swans and recently a little egret was seen inspecting the area. Another pair stay down by the bridge and a third pair are in the garden. Occasional confrontations occur but generally without too much aggression involved.

A female goosander duck took up residence in the garden for a few days. We watched her diving in the millpool and then surfacing a distance away. Goosander hunt for fish. She sat companionably with the mallards on the banks when not hunting. She has now departed and hopefully will find a mate further along the river.

We are leaving a large lawn unmown this year. We have mown pathways around the edge and through the centre so that we can still walk beside the river and through to other areas of the garden. We shall strim around the trees planted in the lawn but otherwise leave it to nature’s own devices. This lawn has never been treated for moss or any other weeds. We do not do this on any of our lawns as sterile grass is not particularly attractive in our opinion. Daisies, clover, moss and even the occasional dandelion are welcomed!

We recently purchased a blueberry bush, which is now in a large pot and provided with the required ericaceous compost. We have wanted to “try” a blueberry bush for some time as friends have had abundant crops of berries from their plants.

Pruning is our main task at the moment. Probably a bit late but the weather has been so atrocious for several weekends now. Climbing roses and wisteria on the pergola, sambucus nigra, salix and cornus dotted around the garden.

A sign that spring is on the way was a fabulous Brimstone butterfly spotted flying in the garden this morning. The warm sunshine and blue sky lifting everyone’s spirits! SB

Notes from a riverside garden September 2019

Garden Clippings

Autumn and harvest time has arrived in SB’s garden, with mixed yields. Apologies for the late posting of this latest edition of Garden Clippings.

I’m afraid there will be very few Victoria plum pies this winter as our tree produced only a handful of plums.  Likewise, the greengage trees had very little to harvest and certainly not enough to warrant any attempt at jam making.  Our apple crop is equally dismal with no Bramley or Arthur Turner cooking apples.

I have just walked around the garden for some inspiration!  I noticed the viburnum beetle are beginning to transform the leaves of the Viburnum opulus, Guelder Rose, into lacy reincarnations of their previous forms.  Such a shame as the Guelder Rose shrubs look so attractive at this time with numerous clusters of scarlet berries.  Further on the Viburnum tinus is also falling foul to the beetles.  Later, a strong, extremely unpleasant smell will accompany the damaged leaves.  Signs of autumn are revealing themselves with leaves turning a dark red at the very tips of branches on the Acer.  More obvious coloration is visible on the Cornus nuttallii in the vegetable garden.  Rose hips and hawthorn berries adorn the hedge. 

The runner beans are almost over but tomatoes and courgettes are still plentiful.  Alongside the vegetables I grow dahlias as I like a mix of flowers and vegetables in the vegetable garden.  The dahlias are still flowering well but once the frosts come, I will dig them all up and put into storage this year.  I left most of them in situ last winter, covered in straw but I did lose a few as a result.  Our ‘friends’ the voles, who seem to be extremely prolific this year, are still in residence in the greenhouse and help themselves to low growing tomatoes!  The cherry type seems to be the favoured!   Thankfully they do not appear to have acquired a liking for peppers, as I have these in pots on the floor of the greenhouse too. 

Many bees are still seen foraging on late blooming plants and accompanied by butterflies on warm, sunny days.  The moorhens have had a late brood and two bundles of black fluff dart about the back lawn following their mother.   A group of what appear to be juvenile ducks regularly gather on the lawn too. The ducks are accompanied by a lone female swan, who seems to be a new addition to the regular visitors to the garden. 

On hot days the river has been busy with canoes and folk out enjoying the scenery and the sunshine.  Canoeing seems to be growing in popularity and involves people of all ages.  Many are accompanied by their canine pal sporting a life vest and enjoying the ride.  We enjoy the camaraderie of the canoeists and their more often than not friendly waves, as they pass us by.  SB

Notes from a riverside garden – August 2019

Our blog post today comes from SB writing about August in her idyllic garden on the banks of the River Stour.  This month she tells us of some breeding successes and some sadder outcomes.

I write from our study overlooking the millpond.  Looking out of the window I can see a heron standing on one of the semi-submerged branches of the fallen poplar, peering into the water, using his convenient vantage point to hunt from.  We think it is a youngster as it seems far less wary of movement in the house than other herons have been.  We are so pleased we didn’t “tidy up” and have the fallen tree removed as it has proved to be such a benefit to various birds in the garden.  A cormorant was standing with its wings outstretched recently, drying off in the sunshine.  The grey wagtails are frequently seen there as are the kingfishers.  Underwater it provides hiding places and habitat for the fish.

Beyond the millpond is a wartime pillbox.  It is used by peacock butterflies for shelter and to hibernate on the internal walls.  There has been a massacre of the butterflies by an unknown culprit.  All that remain are the lifeless wings, littering the dirt floor like macabre confetti.

In a mature white willow tree there is a dead, suspended branch, a result of storm damage, high up and in not too perilous a position for those of us below, if it should fall!   A pair of kestrels have nested in the hollow created by the snapped branch.  We can observe them hunting over the water meadow opposite for small mammals amongst the long grass.

Spotted flycatchers have returned to the garden.  Such a joy to watch them performing their acrobatics as they hunt from the trees and overhead wires.  They were late arrivals this summer.

Paul was walking along the pergola path when he came face to face with a young water rail.  It tried to seek refuge behind a shrub but as my husband got closer it flew across the millpond into a reed bed.  This is clearly good news as it confirms the successful breeding of the adults, which we captured on camera last winter.

The mallard and swans have had a poor breeding season.  Very few ducklings survived and only two of the seven cygnets.  The cygnets suffered heavy predation and the family very rapidly dwindled in number after hatching. 

For the last few days the air has been filled with the high-pitched whistle and flashes of the bullet-like blur of blue as kingfishers hurtle back and forth across the millpond and up and down the river.   Two have been seen fighting and it would appear that when in flight they are chasing each other.   Perhaps the youngsters are being chased away from the parents’ “patch” or invaders have come in and need to be seen off!  There is certainly a lot of frantic activity which we haven’t witnessed before.  We sat beside the millpond, with a glass of wine, fascinated by their antics yesterday evening.  SB