In 1906 Edith Holden started a Diary, now known as ‘The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady’. In it, she observed Natures cycle through the months of the year, writing simply about the weather, the birds, the flowers and the natural world around her. All the pages are beautifully ornamented with her original artwork and favourite poems. In this Blog, I’m going to try to emulate her Diary in a modern way. For a start, this is a blog on a computer, not pen and ink lovingly written on paper! However, I hope that the end result will have some similarities, in that I want to capture day by day, month by month the steady rhythm of Nature through the year. For although our 21st century lives are hectic, chaotic, noisy and deafened by electronics, the beat of the natural world, which is the backdrop to all our lives whether we notice it or not, remains ever the same. So take a sedate, gentle and steady-paced journey with me through the next year, observing the natural world. Our way of life may have changed almost beyond recognition since 1906, but nature is doing what it always has done, the cycle of nature remains constant and reassuringly predictable. In that respect, nothing has changed. ‘ No Winter lasts forever; no Spring skips its turn.’ (Hal Borland)

Sunday, 31 March 2013

March 31st-Easter day.

A beautiful, sunny blue-skied day to end the month. The woodland floor is full and lushly green with the leaves of the flowers that will soon carpet it- a bumper year for bluebells I think. Dappled sun shone on clumps of wood anemones and the trees were full of birdsong, joined today by the harsh call of a jay. Saw a few rabbits, which have been a very rare sight this last year or two due to the devastation of the population by myxomatosis, I know that's the whole point of the disease but witnessing the terrible suffering it causes to the animal leaves me in no doubt that humans are by far the cruelest species on this planet.
Goodbye March!

Some days in March in the Usk Valley.

Friday, 29 March 2013

March 29th.

Good Friday.
Walked right up to the top, and along the ridge of the Flood route, where there were some beautiful views across the valleys to Abergavenny and Monmouth, still snow on the hills. It remains very cold and the hedgerows have been slowed in their spring blossoming because of it, the birds too after their initial enthusiasm seem to have gone a little quiet. Plenty of buzzards about, some are pairing off. The buzzards really define this valley I think, they are abundant in the woodlands and their cries which sound a bit like a cat mewing,echo across the valleys below. I love to watch groups of them circling high up in a blue sky on a summers day, and wherever I hear them, in other parts of Britain or abroad, I'm immediately transported back to the Usk valley.

   The Buzzards- Martin Armstrong.

    When evening came and the warm glow grew deeper
    And every tree that bordered the green meadows
    And in the yellow cornfields every reaper
    And every corn-shock stood above their shadows
    Flung eastward from their feet in longer measure,
    Serenely far there swam in the sunny height
    A buzzard and his mate who took their pleasure
    Swirling and poising idly in golden light.
    On great pied motionless moth-wings borne along,
    So effortless and so strong,
    Cutting each other's paths, together they glided,
    Then wheeled asunder till they soared divided
    Two valleys' width (as though it were delight
    To part like this, being sure they could unite
    So swiftly in their empty, free dominion),
    Curved headlong downward, towered up the sunny steep,
    Then, with a sudden lift of the one great pinion,
    Swung proudly to a curve and from its height
    Took half a mile of sunlight in one long sweep.

    And we, so small on the swift immense hillside,
    Stood tranced, until our souls arose uplifted
    On those far-sweeping, wide,
    Strong curves of flight, — swayed up and hugely drifted,
    Were washed, made strong and beautiful in the tide
    Of sun-bathed air. But far beneath, beholden
    Through shining deeps of air, the fields were golden
    And rosy burned the heather where cornfields ended.

    And still those buzzards wheeled, while light withdrew
    Out of the vales and to surging slopes ascended,
    Till the loftiest-flaming summit died to blue

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

March 27th.

' Lines written in early spring'.- William Wordsworth.
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

Still bitterly cold with little snow flurries in between patches of welcome sunshine. Along the steep banks of the old railway track the wild flowers were out in full, despite the cold; Primroses, celandines and even some early cowslips in flower. In the marshy areas the marsh marigold is in bud and looks like it too will be in bloom next week. I love these flowers, they’re like huge vibrant spring buttercups, a really cheerful flower!  The woodland floor is covered in lush green foliage of ramsons, which let off a delicious smell of garlic when crushed underfoot. A pair of goosanders in finest spring plumage swam hastily away from me on the river. They’re very shy birds and will dive under the water if you get too close and pop up down stream. Several pairs usually breed on the Usk river , and I saw a family of them last year even though many water birds' nests were destroyed by the unseasonal flooding. Hope we don’t have another year like that.

Illustration available here

Sunday, 24 March 2013

March 24th.

Well March has certainly been unpredictable so far. After days of heavy rain it is now Arctic cold again with snow over much of Wales. The Usk valley is such a sheltered spot that we rarely get heavy snow, and as usual the valley here is still relatively green compared to the surrounding hillsides of Abergavenny and Pontypool and Wentwood.. It is bitterly cold though and I couldn't help feeling sorry for the lambs on the hillsides trying to survive birth in these hostile icy conditions. Funny to think that this exact time last year, we were splashing in the river in the hot sun! The flood water in the fields is still full of birds though; mallards and seagulls who were joined today by a small number of canada geese. Saw a beautiful female sparrowhawk, who was being mobbed by magpies. The banks of primroses along Factory Lane were tightly shut against the cold unfortunately,on a sunny day their flowers tumble all over these shielded slopes.

Friday, 22 March 2013

March 22nd.

The heavy rain of the last couple of days has left the fields flooded again, they had started to dry out after the incredibly wet year that we've just had, but the water level is so high that it takes only a day or two of downpours to have all the streams and brooks in full flood again, and the fields boggy with mud. Nice weather for ducks as they say though! This was the case indeed as the water on the fields was full of mallards, and seagulls. All the wildflowers are looking a bit sorry for themselves with petals tightly closed and the leaves looking a bit bedraggled. Found another blackbirds nest in a hedge with hardly any covering, so I'm sure that one won't be a success. The blackbirds always seem to be desperate to get building nests as early as possible and yet these early nests are very rarely successful due to the lack of cover and shelter from the elements, I wonder why they start so early? They're always the first but it seems like quite a waste of their time and effort!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

March 20th

Lots of pairs of mallards along the brook and in the flood meadows, more than I've seen in many years, so maybe it will be a good year for them. Several herons watched me suspiciously too, they never let you get too close and fly away, usually down stream a bit where five minutes later I've caught up with them so they fly away again! The primroses in the banks are coming into full bloom, such delicate yellow, pretty flowers, and the one blackbirds nest has four speckled blue eggs in.

Monday, 18 March 2013

March 18th.

Went down the Olway valley and through the woods early in the morning. It was very frosty with a heavy dew, the water on the fields from the recent rain was iced over, but the sun was shining and it looked like it was going to be a lovely day. The birds were in full chorus, their dawn singing is getting louder each week. They started at 5.30 this morning and that will get earlier over the coming weeks. Being woken by the blackbird and robin singing melodically, and the wood pigeon cooing softly isn’t so bad, but I have a pair of magpies that cackle harshly right outside my window which doesn’t have the same pleasant effect!
In the woods the birdsong was deafening; crows, rooks ravens, tits, finches, woodpeckers, blackbirds, robins, dunnocks and a tiny wren in full voice were welcoming the morning sun.
Some of the trees are coming in to bud, I noticed an Ash ready to burst in to leaf. Fortunately the ash trees here don’t seem to be suffering from ‘ ash dieback’, the disease that has decimated the population elsewhere. Hope it remains that way.

           THE WREN- John Clare. 1825
  Why is the cuckoos melody preferred
And nightingales rich song so madly praised
In poets rhymes?   Is there no other bird
Of natures minstrelsy that oft hath raised
Ones heart to exstacy and mirth as well
I judge not how anothers taste is caught
With mine theres other birds that bear the bell
Whose song hath crowds of happy memories brought
Such the wood Robin singing in the dell
And little Wren that many a time hath sought
Shelter from showers in huts where I did dwell
In early spring the tennant of the plain
Tenting my sheep and still they come to tell
The happy stories of the past again.

Illustration available here

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

March 12th.

‘Yesterday the twig was brown and bare;
 Today the glint of green is there;
 Tomorrow will be leaflets spare;
 I know no thing such wondrous fair,
 No miracle so strangely rare.
 I wonder what will next be there!’

 L.H. Bailey

Another sunny but very cold day with snow flurries in the early morning.Walked through the lanes which are sheltered as they are very old sunken lanes.Came across a lovely bank of daffodils. The skylarks were still singing, even the icy wind doesn't stop them!

To a Skylark - Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Hail to thee, blythe spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then-as I am listening now.

Monday, 11 March 2013

March 11th.

Illustration available here

‘ It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.’- Charles Dickens (Great Expectations).

It was exactly one of those days today! The wind was blowing straight in from the Arctic, bringing snow flurries and blasts of freezing air, and at other times the sky was bright blue and full of sunshine, and if you were in a sheltered spot it was a beautiful warm spring day. I like the duality of March, you can be in two seasons, depending on where you’re standing.
In the afternoon I walked across to the woods which are on a steep sided bank that is westerly facing. It was very sheltered and warm and I was surprised to see how lush and green the woodland floor is, being covered in thick blue-bell leaves, wood anemone, celandine and patches of the lovely spotted leaves of the early purple orchid. Buzzards were launching out of the trees but landing again quite quickly when they left the screen of the bank and caught the full force of the wind.
The great tits were very active and vocal today, calling from what seemed like every tree and bush.

I got so warm that I took my coat off, but as soon as I left the protection of the wood it came on again very rapidly!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

March 10th

'Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn’. Lewis Grizzard.

Mothering Sunday today, and a perfect month to celebrate creation and birth. The earliest pre-Christian festivals held in March were to honour the Mother Goddess and the Spring-time cycle of new life and rebirth.
The mild weather of the last few days has ended, and a bitterly icy wind from the east has started blowing. Despite the return of the cold weather, the first frogspawn has been laid in Usk schools pond, and I’ve been watching two pairs of blackbirds busily collecting material for their nests which are both in patches of thick ivy. The blackthorn too is blossoming, its delicate white flowers must be much hardier that they look.

March winds- Horace.D. Grosser
Blow, winds of March, and bring the brightening days!
Blow, ruthless winds! for life is in your breath.
The moorland skies are colourless as death,
Bleak are the meads and all the woodland ways.
Earth faints for glimpses of the unseen blue,
So long deferred the hope of shining hours.
O stormy winds! the trees and waking flowers
Are calling, and their cry is unto you.

Breathe round the orchards, till the gaunt grey boughs
Dream of wet-petalled blooms and mellowing fruits.
Crisp the dank moss about gnarled forest roots,
And bid from sleep the sweet frail faces rouse.
Come forth, and with white glories let the lanes
Hide their young leaves; with silent laughter fill
The curl'd lips of the yellow daffodil,
And wring from drifting clouds the April rains.

Blow, winds of March, and fill the homeward sails
Far out on boisterous seas; the foam-wave parts
Before the rushing prow, and eager hearts
Hunger for home; more welcome the wild gales
Than all the spice winds of the southern deep.
Blow, then! we shall not tremble, but rejoice
To hear you through the night with clarion voice
Calling upon the world to wake from sleep.

Friday, 8 March 2013

March 8th.

A damp, grey but mild day. The sun battled with the clouds to show its face, but never quite won!
 I walked to the top of Usk Flood route, and back around the lanes towards Alt-y-bella.
The skylarks were high up singing again on Red Hill.

 I heard the beautiful fluting ‘peewit’ of a lapwing and looked up to see a small flock flying overhead. They were quite high up and I thought they were just passing through, but another mile along the lane I heard first, then spotted them in a ploughed field next to meadow lands. Three of them took to the air in a wonderful aerial display; swooping, diving and looping like they were on a personal roller coaster, and calling all the time. Beautiful birds! The hawthorn in the hedgerows is coming into leaf, won’t be long before the hedges are green and thick again.

Illustration available here

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

March 6th.

A bit of a grey, drizzly day, but calm and still.
Up on Red Hill the skylarks were back, I heard them first, their lovely warbling, trilling song high up in the air. Then eventually I spotted them; two, either side of the lane in opposite fields, little dots in the grey sky. One came fluttering down and landed in the field as I watched. A huge flock of fieldfares came whisking over the top of my head and made me jump, on their way to congregate in a near-by tree. Won’t be long before their Spring migration. 

The Primrose- Thomas Carew.
 (based upon an earlier poem by Robert Herrick)

Ask me why I send you here
The firstling of the infant year;
Ask me why I send to you
This primrose all bepearled with dew:
I straight will whisper in your ears,
The sweets of love are washed with tears.
Ask me why this flower doth show
So yellow, green, and sickly too; 
Ask me why the stalk is weak
And bending, yet it doth not break:
I must tell to you, these discover
What doubts and fears are in a lover.

Monday, 4 March 2013

March 4th

Illustration available here

 A cold grey start soon blossomed in to another beautiful, blue-skied sunny Spring day. I walked up the Olway brook and on to Factory Lane, carrying on in to Evan’s wood and the hills beyond. There were several pairs of mallards on the brook. They’ve split up from their larger winter groups now, and paired off, looking for nesting sites. The banks of the lane are bursting into life with celandines and primroses poking through the new greenery, the hedges full of bird-song. A beautiful pair of bull-finches flew out, the male in full bright spring plumage. 

Up on the hill the ravens were out in force, their barking croaks echoing across the valley, and  six buzzards were gliding around together mewing loudly. I wandered to the top of the hill to see if there was any movement in the heronry in the wood, and sure enough a heron eyed me suspiciously from a big messy pile of sticks high up in the branches, so I left before it took fright and flew off. I followed the woodland stream back to the lane accompanied by the ‘yaffling’ of a green woodpecker. On a bank of crocuses I saw the first bumble-bee of the year, busy collecting pollen with an assortment of other little wasps and hover flies.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

March 2nd and 3rd

March 2nd:
A beautiful, still, calm sunny day. A truly spring day, where you could actually feel the warmth of the sun! March has certainly come in like a lamb.
It was such a still day, that every sound travelled for miles; a dog barking across the valley, children shouting, even the sound of a distant rugby match from across the other side of the River Usk.
The woods were alive with resonating bird song; great tits, blue tits, long-tailed tits descending on mass on to an alder, chaffinches, rooks and even the cry of seagulls who had strayed inland. The woodpecker was busy drilling again sounding like loud machine gun fire. Blackbird alarm calls were reverberating through the trees as the males have Spring fever and are aggressively sparring, fighting over territory and females (same story in every species it seems!). A beautiful little tree- creeper was scurrying up and down an oak, I have very rarely heard one of these sing, but even this one stopped for a quick tune on
 such a glorious day.

Illustration available here

March 3rd:
As the easterly wind predicted, a cold, grey, icy day. The woods were much more muted today, the birds weren’t feeling quite so joyful. The first stitchwort has come out on the woodland floor, and  bluebells are poking up their green leaves in a huge show so I’m looking forward to the flowers that will follow. A woodland full of blue-bells has the best smell in the world!
I returned home about half past five as it was turning dusk, to the sound of the low croaking bark of a couple of ravens making their way back to their roosts for the night.

' Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men'-  Chinese proverb.

Friday, 1 March 2013

March 1st

Illustration available here

St. David’s Day, and lovely to see all the little children dressed in traditional costume on their way to school.
A calm but grey day and the most mild it’s been for several weeks, but an easterly wind has picked up so I don’t think it will last!
Went for a long walk along the Olway brook and  through the woods that border it. Robin’s song filled the air in the alders, willows and hazels that line the banks; warbling loudly, then waiting for a reply from a neighbouring tree before answering with another glorious burst of song. The woods too were alive with flocks of tits, all noisily calling to each other. A heron flew up, and a woodpecker was loudly beating on the trunk of one of the wild cherry trees that grow in this part of the wood. 
I heard from a reliable source that an otter had been spotted on 24th February on this stretch of the brook. I’ve seen them several times but not for many months. It was bitter sweet news though, as although it’s great that they’re back, The Environment Agency moved in with their diggers and chainsaws a couple of days after this sighting and have completely destroyed the habitat, so safe to say that there will be no more sightings of them this year at least, if not much longer. Hopefully they’ve gone upstream a little onto unspoilt areas, where I’ve also seen them before.
The hedgerows are starting to come to life with a lovely display this year of catkins of every colour it seems! The celandines are trying their hardest to open their flowers, but the weather is still a bit too harsh; a day of sunshine should see them out in full.

Illustration available here
I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud – William Wordsworth.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such jocund company:
I gazed –and gazed- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And when my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Daffodowndilly - A. A. Milne

She wore her yellow Sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour;
‘ Winter is dead’.