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)

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

April 30th.

The last day of April, and what a beautiful day, though there was frost and a heavy dew lying on the fields when I went out early this morning. The birds were already in full chorus and it was lovely to see blackcaps in the hedges and hear chiff-chaffs calling, you know it's summer when the migrant birds return even if there was a frost! I went to see if the early purple orchids are in flower yet and they were; a nice patch of them in pretty flower on the woodland floor. Walked up along the river which was quit except for a few swans.Along the lanes I found a long-tailed tits nest, but unfortunately as with so many nests so far this year it had been attacked ,with feathers scattered in the hedge. Such a shame, they are the most beautiful nests.Also saw a raven raiding a magpies nest, which is a bit of a turn around as magpies are terrible for attacking other birds nests, they are a real pest in nesting season and cause a lot of destruction, but still felt a bit sorry for the pair of distressed magpies angrily clacking at the raven who ignored them completely and carried on pulling their nest to bits to get at the eggs inside. Happily though I saw a blackbird fledgling today, so at least some are having some luck in the very thin and sparse hedgerows. Perhaps May will bring some warmer weather!

Some days in the Usk Valley in April.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

April 27th.

Illustration available here

Don't think I've seen the woods so thickly carpeted in flowers for many years, they at least, seem to have particularly thrived on the wet weather of the last year.The banks are covered in violets,  primroses, masses of wood anemone, stitchwort  celandine and the first flowering bluebells. The sun and flowers have also brought the butterflies out, saw lots of peacock butterflies doing their usual helter-skelter flying, along the edges of the wood. Also the little miner bees that burrow out funny little volcano like holes to lay their eggs in are back in my garden, they come back to the same spot every summer.

To a Butterfly II- William Wordsworth.

Illustration available here
I've watch'd you now a full half-hour,
Self-poised upon that yellow flower;
And, little Butterfly! indeed 
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless!—not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!
This plot of orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my Sister's flowers;
Here rest your wings when they are weary;
Here lodge as in a sanctuary!
Come often to us, fear no wrong;
Sit near us on the bough!
We'll talk of sunshine and of song,
And summer days, when we were young;
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

April 23rd.

Went out very early when the mist was still rising and the dew lay heavy and wet on the meadows. The skies were such a clear blue, and I was hoping I may catch a glimpse of the otters on the brook as it was a perfect morning to see them.Walked up the Olway valley to the quiet undisturbed parts of the brook. The reens along the flood plains are full of wriggling tadpoles so hopefully there'll be plenty of frogs this year.The skylarks that nest on the large field along the brook were in full voice, hope they have better luck with their nest this year as it was destroyed by flooding last year. Found a lovely sand martin nesting site, with the birds diving in and out of the bank, lots of burrows already,again, hope they don't get flooded out this year. Didn't see any otters though. 

On the way back down Factory Lane which was beautifully bordered with huge bunches of bright celandine that are only now in true bloom, I found the prettiest wrens nest tucked away in the nook of a willow. I was going to have a closer look at it but the wren was in the bush by the side of me and scolding me very fiercely, so I left them in peace.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

April 20th and 21st.

Such a beautiful sunny warm day. Went through the woods, along the river and up along the Usk valley.The woods are now thickly carpeted in Ramsons, filling the air with their green garlic smell. The very understated Lady's Smock or Milk Maids, as I call them are out in bloom, such a pretty delicate flower. The river was quiet, thought I might see the goosanders and ducks but perhaps they have taken to the undergrowth in the banks, and trees to start nesting. The hedges are now starting at last to turn green, but Spring is very late this year it seems.

Went down to the Gwent levels in the morning and on to the reed beds on the wetlands. Quite an overcast and cold day. April is very unpredictable! The reeds were full of the non-stop singing and vocal acrobatics of reed warblers with the occasional loud outburst from cettis warblers, but they were very difficult to spot. Quite a few pairs of nesting swans and canada geese. Spring however I know has truly sprung  as I heard the Cuckoo for the first time and saw it sitting in the branch of a tree, calling in it's lovely mellow (but repetitive) voice for about five minutes. Haven't heard any in the Usk valley yet. 

To The Cuckoo- William Wordsworth.

O BLITHE New-comer! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice.
O Cuckoo! Shall I call thee Bird,
Or but a wandering Voice?

While I am lying on the grass
Thy twofold shout I hear,
From hill to hill it seems to pass,
At once far off, and near.

Though babbling only to the Vale,
Of Sunshine and of flowers,
Thou bringest unto me a tale
Of visionary hours.

Thrice welcome, darling of the Spring!
Even yet thou art to me
No bird, but an invisible thing,
A voice, a mystery;

The same whom in my school-boy days
I listened to; that Cry
Which made me look a thousand ways
In bush, and tree, and sky.

To seek thee did I often rove
Through woods and on the green;
And thou wert still a hope, a love;
Still longed for, never seen.

And I can listen to thee yet;
Can lie upon the plain
And listen, till I do beget
That golden time again.

O blessed Bird! the earth we pace
Again appears to be
An unsubstantial, faery place;
That is fit home for Thee! 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

April 18th.

Strong winds in the night that have blown over a couple of trees, and cracked branches. Still a blustery day, two pairs of herons flew up from the reen in the flood meadows, they were breakfasting on frogspawn, but their willowy, gangly bodies aren't designed for flying in the wind so they didn't go far. Sand martins and swallows were flying low along the grass. Went through the fields on to the lane , the stream running along it had bunches of marsh marigold in flower. Up in the wood the floor is thickly covered in wood anemone and celandine, with lots of foliage of other flowers; foxglove, bluebell, red campion and forget-me-nots but no flowers of these in sight yet. An owl was hooting in the wood in broad daylight which was unusual, good job I'm not at all superstitious,  It was probably something to do with mating (most things are this time of year!).

Illustration available here

Sunday, 14 April 2013

April 14th.

The sand martins and swallows have returned to the Usk river after their winter away, the sky above the water was full of their diving and swooping.The warm wet weather is having a good effect on the hedgerows which seem to have burst into bud almost overnight. A few grey squirrels too have left their winter nests and were foraging on the wood floor, which looked luminous in places where the wood spurge was blossoming.
The house sparrows in my garden are still busily gathering nesting material, seemed very pleased with the dogs fur that was left on the floor from his ear trim!

Illustration available here

Spring Morning- A.A. Milne.

Where am I going? I don't quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don't know.

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You'd sail on water as blue as air,
And you'd see me here in the fields and say:
"Doesn't the sky look green today?"

       Where am I going? The high rooks call:
       "It's awful fun to be born at all."
        Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
        "We do have beautiful things to do."

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You'd lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You'd say to the wind when it took you away:
"That's where I wanted to go today!"

Where am I going? I don't quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don't know.

Friday, 12 April 2013

April 12th

No this isn't Monmouthshire! Travelled to south Cornwall to the Lizard peninsula. Spring is much further advanced down there and it's nice to know that what's happening down there is soon on it's way north to us!The cliffs are full of gorse in flower and it was lovely to watch lots of pairs of stonechats flying in and out of the bushes, with the male doing a funny little dance in the air with a squeaky song to impress the female.  In the summer months, I've seen stonechats here, up on the more heathy hillsides though, not in the valley, so I enjoyed watching them this early in the year. Also watched red billed choughs flying around the clifftops in Cadgwith cove, these used to be extinct in cornwall but are making a comeback, and they're still rare on the Welsh coast, definitely not a bird that will be seen in Monmouthshire!
The hedgerows too are full of flowers with the campion blossoming profusely already.
Back home in the woods the flowers are starting to thrive on the warm Spanish air that has finally found it's way here, with beautiful bunches of violets showing their pretty heads, and dandelions that are so taken for granted, defiantly facing the grey skies. House sparrows that nest in the roof of my house are busy collecting nesting material.

Who hath despised the day of small things?- Christina Rossetti.
' As violets....
Recluse and sweet,
Cheerful as daisies
Unaccounted rare;
Still sunward gazing
From a lowly seat;
Still sweetening wintry air'

Illustration available here

Monday, 8 April 2013

April 8th.

Went out early through the lanes. It was one of those mornings where the grey haze is fighting with the sun to see what sort of a day it will be, by the time I got home, the sun had won and it was a pleasant, calm spring day. I hadn't heard the skylarks for a while so went to see if I could spot them. There was no sign of them at first, but one suddenly rose from the ground, continuously warbling until it was a speck in the sky high above. Found a robins nest in the banks of the lane, but it doesn't have enough cover I think to be successful.
They build such comfy looking nests in nooks and crannies in the banks that are usually very hard to find, but this year the banks are late in being covered. Saying that, they are thickening out with bushy foxglove foliage, violets and tiny wild strawberries, along with large amount of dogs mercury and ferns. Coming back, the skylark was ascending again, wings fluttering and non-stop singing until three buzzards glided into its patch of sky and it went silent- don't blame it!

Lament of Mary- Burns.
'Now lav'rocks wake the merry morn
Aloft on dewy wing;
The merle, in his noontide bower
Makes woodland echoes ring
The mavis wild wi' many a note
Sings drowsy day to rest,
In love and freedom they rejoice
Wi' care nor thrall oppress'd.

Now blooms the lily on the bank,
The primrose down the brae;
The hawthorns budding in the glen
And milk-white is the slae;'


Saturday, 6 April 2013

April 6th.

Illustration available here
A truly spring day today! Blue skies, warm sun, birdsong, flowers in the hedgerows and the first butterflies! Saw two comma butterflies in the hedges on Factory Lane. Some of the frogspawn has hatched too and small tadpoles have appeared. A nuthatch was calling from a tree and a whitethroat was singing beautifully, even though I looked for quite a while I couldn't spot it, their pale colour blends in perfectly with the branches of the trees. Shrews too were very active in the banks, their high pitched squeaking giving them away, it's the first time I've heard them this year. Perhaps Spring is finally on the move.

April's Charms - William Henry Davies
When April scatters charms of primrose gold 
Among the copper leaves in thickets old, 
And singing skylarks from the meadows rise, 
To twinkle like black stars in sunny skies;

When I can hear the small woodpecker ring 
Time on a tree for all the birds that sing; 
And hear the pleasant cuckoo, loud and long -- 
The simple bird that thinks two notes a song;

When I can hear the woodland brook, that could 
Not drown a babe, with all his threatening mood; 
Upon these banks the violets make their home, 
And let a few small strawberry vlossoms come:

When I go forth on such a pleasant day, 
One breath outdoors takes all my cares away; 
It goes like heavy smoke, when flames take hold 
Of wood that's green and fill a grate with gold.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

April 4th

The cold weather of March shows no signs of letting up yet, as April thus far although sunny, is still freezing, such a biting east wind bringing flurries of snow, that has halted spring in its tracks for the time being. Found three more blackbirds nests- poor birds seem to be desperately trying to find every scrap of cover they can to build them in, clumps of ivy seem to be a favourite as they are the only plant as yet that is providing any canopy.

Walked up past Castle Farm and into the woods, and on up to the Flagpole where there were some lovely views across the valley. The woods were quite quiet with the occasional buzzard trying to brave the strong winds but landing again very rapidly after being buffeted around. In the small lake there were at least seven pairs of mallards and a pair of canada geese.

The dunnocks are singing beautifully at the moment in the hedgerows. They are such an understated bird, often mistaken for sparrows because of their dull brown and grey plumage. They have however a melodious, clear, warbling song that is stunning, even more so because it comes from such a diminutive bird.

Illustration available here

Monday, 1 April 2013

April 1st.

The name April comes from the Latin word ‘aperire’ – to open, as this is the month when all the flowers and blossoms open. It was known as Eostremonath (easter month) in Anglo-Saxon, although this year, as sometimes happens Easter fell in March.

Traditional days;
April 1st- April fool’s day
April 14th- St Turbitus’s day.
April 19th- Primrose day.
April23rd- St Georges’ day.

 Folk sayings about April;

‘ The first of April some do say
Is set apart for All Fools Day
But why the people call it so,
Not I, nor they themselves do know.'

The cuckoo comes in April,
Sings its’ song in May.
In the middle of June it changes its’ tune,
And then it flies away.

The saying goes that the Cuckoo sings from St Turbitus’s day ( 14th April) to St Johns’ day ( 24th June).

‘April showers bring May flowers.’

Over The Land Is April by Robert Louis Stevenson

OVER the land is April,
Over my heart a rose;
Over the high, brown mountain
The sound of singing goes.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain,
Love, do you hear me sing?

By highway, love, and by way
The snows succeed the rose.
Over the high, brown mountain
The wind of winter blows.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain
I sound the song of spring,
I throw the flowers of spring.
Do you hear the song of spring?
Hear you the songs of spring?